Madaleine Nicolette Moye-Lowery is pageant royalty, but you won't see any screaming fits or sassy mouth on her. Nor will you ever see her wearing fake hair and spray tans, because despite what television might show, the real world of children's pageants is far from "Toddlers and Tiaras."
In the local beauty pageant circle, moms are furious. They feel the portrayal of all pageant participants as hateful little girls and mothers who are living through their children gives everyone involved a bad name. And no one is more irritated than Beth Moye, Madaleine's mother.
"I really wish they would just cancel that show," she said of the popular TLC program. "Most people are like us. The stuff you see on ‘Toddlers and Tiaras' is extreme, but that's what these shows are about and that's how they make their money. I don't know anyone who acts like that."
And certainly Madaleine and her mother have been around the circuit. She competed in her first pageant when she was just 8-months-old. Beth had a friend whose little girl competed and she decided to give it a try. She borrowed a dress and since Madaleine didn't have any hair yet, they didn't worry about that. Beth was surprised when Madaleine won best smile and first place in the pageant.
She just celebrated her third birthday and has competed in 35 pageants so far.
"When your kid wins the first one, it's almost like you're hooked," said Beth. "And from the second Madaleine walked onstage and knew that everyone was looking at her, her eyes lit up and she started waving and babbling to people in the audience. It's been like that every time we've been on stage since we've started. She just lights up."
But as a single mom in school full-time, it can be hard sometimes to make everything work. Between dresses and entry fees, it isn't cheap, but Beth likens it to any other activity (dance classes, sports, cheerleading) that a child may participate in.
Entry fees run around $85, but when the pageant is a benefit as well, entry costs are sometimes cheaper. For local pageants Beth said they usually spend no more than $100 on a dress - sometimes less - and that it isn't uncommon for her to trade or sell their old dresses on consignment. She even has a dressmaker dresses as down payments and resell them, which takes money off the dresses she makes for Madaleine. The most Beth has spent on a pageant dress was $330, which was for a national pageant with hundreds of competitors.
"For the natural pageants you can even put them in little Easter dresses," she said. "She won Queen of Queens in a $16 dress... I think one of the biggest misconceptions is that people pay thousands of dollars for pageants, and I guess some people do, but what's the difference in that and people who spend thousands on sports?"
But all costs aside, pageants for Beth and Madaleine are bonding time. They start practicing about a week before, but since there isn't a talent portion or a routine at her age, they don't worry about things like that. For this mother, daughter duo, it's all about having fun. As the girls get older, not only are there talent portions, but also community service projects girls are urged to participate in, and platforms they should have as well.
To get prepared for a pageant, Madaleine will start practicing in the kitchen where she has a little area set up about a week before. Her dolls and stuffed animals act as her judges. She has never told Beth she didn't want to participate in pageants, but if she did, they'd stop.
"If she didn't want to participate anymore, she would stop winning which would take away from the fun anyway. It's a hobby, and if we're not having fun, then there's no point... We'll keep doing pageants as long as she wants to do them and as long as I can afford to put her in them."
But the best part, according to Beth, is seeing the confidence participating in pageants has brought out in her little girl. However, pageant life isn't all sequins and sparkles. For every winner there is a loser, which for Beth and Madaleine is the worst part.
"You're not gonna' win them all," said Beth. "Some judges may prefer brown hair over blonde hair, and it's awful when you feel like your child should have done better.
The second worst part is trying to get a toddler to sit still," she said laughing. "We bring a portable DVD player and candy, and she sits and watches television while we get ready... whatever works to keep the chaos down in the dressing room," she said.
"We've competed at international levels, and I've seen kids with fake hair and too much makeup. But as far as the way they behave? I have never seen anyone act like they do on television, especially at the local pageants... I did once see a 2-year-old with fake nails, and I actually told the mother that her child looked ridiculous."
But they bond in the time spent on the road or in the dressing room. It's Mommy and Madaleine time to chat and talk about dresses and practice. It's time spent just the two of them doing something they both enjoy. There's no screaming fits and bribery involved. And that, according to Beth, is the reality of pageants.