Toddlers and Tiaras

Wendy Dickey has put 3-year-old daughter Paisley in "60-something" pageants, including Miss Sugarplum Fairy, as seen on this week's Toddlers & Tiaras (Wednesdays, 10/9c, TLC). Like many featured on the show, Dickey's parenting philosophy is unorthodox. Below, Dickey talks about bribing her child with sugar, emphasizing beauty at such a young age and referring to her child as "a little turd."

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I found your honesty on the show uncommon: You say that you don't know if Paisley would do pageants on her own accord and that this is your hobby.
Wendy Dickey: It was my decision to get her into pageants when she was 6 months old, but as she has developed into a toddler and into making her own decisions, she actually loves pageants. She wants to do it. There may come a time when she tells me, "I'm through with it," and when she does, we will pursue something else she may enjoy.

A lot of parents whose kids are in pageants say that, but since this is your hobby, can you be sure that you won't end up resenting your daughter in the event of her lack of interest?
Dickey: I know that I wouldn't resent her, but I would hate it. It would break my heart, because I enjoy it so much. It's something we do together. We spend a lot of quality time at the pageants and especially on the road trips [to and from them]. But if she decides they don't and if it's not fun for her, it won't be fun for me. She does love gymnastics, tap and ballet, so we do have some backups for non-pageant things. Whatever she decides I will support her 100 percent. But I will admit that it will break my heart. It is my hobby.

On the show, Paisley says she'd rather hunt and ride a four-wheeler than do pageants. Why not just put her on the back of a bike?
Dickey: We do both. We spend a lot of weekends doing pageants, but we also spend a lot of time camping. I have two sons who also love to camp, hunt, fish, everything. Our family's very outdoorsy, so she actually gets the best of both worlds.

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Your husband, Scott, and your sons all express some disdain for pageantry. Is there a civil war going on in your house?
Dickey: Not really. My husband loves it when she competes in [and] wins in natural pageants. That's the true girl and what you see is real. Whereas glitz, anyone can win a glitz pageant. A lot of the glitz pageants are based on the makeup part and the photographer, and not so much the child.

Scott says that glitz pageants steal children's innocence. Do you agree with that?
Dickey: I don't really agree with that, and I'm not sure he didn't say that because he's heard it so much. With him being a dad, he's going to be more protective and more anti-glitz. I really don't think he feels that way. I know that when we're interviewed, we tend to get nervous and you say things that don't quite come out the way you planned it. I don't feel like it steals their innocence. It's dress-up.

At one point you refer to doing pageants as "addictive."
Dickey: It is. When you win, it's like, "All right, let's go win some more!" If you do a pageant and you lose, it's like, "Let's go do another one so we can win again."

Is that a red flag, though, to you? Anything that's addictive could be dangerous.
Dickey: You have to be smart about it. If there's a pageant we want to do and don't have the money, we'll pass on it. We just have to keep a level head.

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What about the idea that emphasizing a child's appearance at such a young age could give her a warped worldview?
Dickey: Paisley's very young right now and doesn't understand what it means to be beautiful. She thinks everyone's beautiful. But when she gets older, I will teach her, "You're beautiful from your attitude and the way you act." You have to teach that as a mom. You don't place all of the emphasis on beauty, but here again, we're talking about beauty pageants. If that's what you're doing, you're doing something based on beauty. I try to teach her to that, when she wins, go tell the other girls, "Good job!" Or when she loses, I try to teach her to lose humbly, and [not] make a big deal about it. Again, she's very young. I don't think she understands. I don't even think she understands when she loses.

Tell me about bribing Paisley with sugar.
Dickey: She loves Skittles. We use that to bribe her. For a glitz pageant, they have to be still when you do their hair, so we give her a Skittle sometimes just to pass the time or get her through getting ready. But pageant day is not an everyday thing in our family. She gets to do things on pageant day that she normally does not. On most days, she does not get a lot of sugar.

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If she doesn't know the difference between winning and losing, do you think she knows the difference between pageant day and non-pageant day?
Dickey: I think she has figured out that pageant day is her special day, because she does get away with more things than normal on that day. I think she thinks of it as [she would] her birthday: a special day.

One thing that I expect to be controversial is that you refer to Paisley as a "turd."
Dickey: When we were filming, she was 2, and whoever came up with the term "terrible twos" knew what they were talking about. There have been plenty of times backstage where she has acted like what we call "a little turd," and once she hits the stage, she goes into pageant mode. That's just a nickname she has developed and a lot of my friends in the pageant business call her "a little turd," because she acts like one. We say that with a sense of humor. She is really a sweet little girl.