Pimp My Child
Riposte – By Sumner Burstyn.
A child being pushed along a crowded downtown pavement on a hot Saturday afternoon in Toronto. Nothing strange about that. Until you realise there’s an excited crowd around the stroller and coterie of videographers surrounding mother and child. Next you notice the stroller. It’s totally tricked out. Lined in layers of lace and pink velvets, trimmed and hung with sparkly tassels.
And then you realise there’s a real live baby in there, as pimped as her pram. She’s propped up on pillows so her stroller is more like a carnival float than a convenient way to transport a child. And it’s clear right away this is no ordinary baby. She is layered in pink frills, there are ribbons pinned in her sparse baby hair and her tiny ears sparkle with jewels. To finish the ensemble she’s secured against the pillows with a big bling belt.
When you first catch site of this circus you think ‘oh that’s a cute kid.’ Then you notice the woman we assume is her mother. She says she’s former French model, which would explain how she can easily push a stroller in 9-inch heels in a stripper tight dress that begs the question: how did she get that body back so quick after giving birth? And then you wonder is this child is really hers?
And then the real questions begin. Who is this child all decked out in some approximation of fame? And why are total strangers stopping and gawping and cooing over her as if she’s just jumped out of the pages of a princess storybook?
On their website the parents declare Hyrah was ‘born famous’. They say they decided ‘a celebrity childhood best fit their daughter’s natural charm.’ They claim she is the cutest and most photogenic baby in the world. Naturally with so much going for Hyrah they did what all good parents do – they hired a video crew to follow them 24/7. And they began to tour their prize exhibit around the casinos, streets and malls of the US and Canada.
In one very disturbing video on the site Hyrah is dressed in a tiny spangled costume not unlike something a showgirl might wear. Rather than being cuddled she is held at arms length by an unidentified man as he dances with her almost as if she were an adult woman, while around them cameras flash and people clap.
A paper just published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry by Martina M. Cartwright tries to understand the similar phenomena of child beauty pageants. Cartwright calls it “princess by proxy,” a unique form of “achievement by proxy distortion” in which adults are driven primarily by the social or financial gains earned by their child’s accomplishments, regardless of risk involved for the child.
Certainly as we watch from a distance and following their little circus for a few blocks in Toronto it is obvious this is not some innocent bit of fun orchestrated for the benefit of a child.
From the clichés of her costumes to the princess model of how girl children should act and look, the public life of Hyrah with her single name moniker is deeply disturbing.
It is a new kind of street theatre played out both online and for real where the life of a child is a commodity no different than any other manufactured item.
She exists solely to satisfy the celebrity greed of her pimping parents.
It is our need too. Everyone they meet on the streets and online just seems to buy into it. It’s as if we are all so inside the fake dream of a diamond studded life that we can’t see the tragedy of this one life. And all we can do is coo how cute she looks.
In the end Hyrah is just an ordinary baby. Except she’s been sold into a form of slavery – to image, to pastiche, to pink girl clichés, to bling and the cult of shallow celebrity by the very people who should be her care givers. Poor Hyrah. What happens when she wakes up one day and realizes the world her handlers created around her was as fake as the Truman Show. Surely this is child abuse.