Monday, June 11, 2012

Toddlers and Tiaras

This is a speech I recently wrote for my Dynamics class:

I am a terrible person. In recent weeks, I have inadvertently contributed to the global issue that is child abuse. No, I was not babysitting and smacking the children for bad behaviour or refusing to go to bed, and no I did not deny a child access to their basic human rights; but, I did support an unrecognized form of child abuse. I sat on my couch one evening, watching TLC’s hit TV show, “Toddlers and Tiaras”.

As I sat there in the comfort of my pajamas, with a mug of tea in hands, I watched Holly, a 7 year old beauty pageant contestant getting her legs shaved. Seven years old! When I was seven, I spent my days in my backyard sand box, or playing “house” with my next-door neighbours. Holly, at seven years old is making visits to her aunt’s house so that she can get her monstrously hairy legs shaven. Is this sick, or what? And is it just me, or are seven year-olds’ legs pretty smooth in the first place? Toddlers and Tiaras is a form of child abuse.

The next episode, I witnessed Karley and Kylie, two sisters from Georgia forcefully being spray tanned by their mother. Karley, age 4, whined “nooooo, I don’t want to” as she ran to the corner of the room away from her mom. Frustrated, the mother said, “I’m gunna count down from three... 3,2”, then afraid of her mom’s temper, Karley gave in, “alright, I’ll do it”! Meanwhile, Karley is bundled in the corner of the room, red faced and puffy eyed. “Look at your white legs; don’t you want them to be pretty?”, the mother asked Karley, and she began spraying her 4 year old daughter with an artificial skin colouring agent. Karley could barely contain her tears, and still her mother tried to justify her actions by saying, “It’s okay, Karley actually likes getting her spray tan.” Yes. That’s exactly what it looked like to me too. Toddlers and Tiaras is a form of child abuse.

As if I hadn’t seen enough at this point, on another episode of Toddlers and Tiaras, four year old Mackenzie, was heading to “Diva Day” with her mother. Mackenzie’s mother said in an interview, “We set up the chocolate facial... I do believe it will exfoliate and moisturize her skin and brighten her complexion for the pageant.” Mackenzie wasn’t into the whole idea, she would have rather eaten the chocolate used in the making of the facial. It was evident that Mackenzie wasn’t having a good time, and after getting her nails done, her aesthetician stated, “Putting nails on Mackenzie was like putting nails on a Tasmanian Devil!” Toddlers and Tiaras is a form of child abuse.

            I’m going to go out on a limb and say that child abuse is not considered socially acceptable in our society. So why then, is a show such as Toddlers and Tiaras considered acceptable to watch and even to produce? The show began airing in 2009, and is currently in its 5th season on TLC with 59 episodes aired since its debut. This season the show has expanded, and is also being aired in the United Kingdom. The fact that this show has lasted for 5 seasons, and that it has gained such a fan base that it has been able to air in multiple continents is saddening. A TV show that documents a form of child abuse is gaining popularity.

            A more recent episode of “Toddlers and Tiaras” involving the first boy ever seen on the show, followed the story of how Traven was willing to break the rules in order to walk away with the title of champion in the International ‘Fresh Faces’ Pageant. When his mother asked him how he was planning on winning this pageant if he's not willing to practice, he simply replied, "I just want to cheat!" ... “Good luck, girls," Traven’s mother was quoted saying, "My son is going to get it." And so, on top of all the things we have found that are so morally wrong and unethical about the TLC TV show, we now have seen how competitive these young children have become. And what on earth could make this boy want to win so badly, that he’s willing to cheat... and admit it on national TV? My best guess; pressure from his parents. Toddlers and Tiaras is a form of child abuse.

            So what ever happened to playing “house”, going for evening strolls to the ice cream store, and getting your hands dirty in the sand box at the playground? These poor beauty pageant princesses are being pressured to hit the stage with wigs, makeup, dental prosthetics and well-rehearsed performances. And now I am left with a few questions; do pressures to look so flawless beginning at such a young age set unrealistic precedence for these children as they grow up? Will this lead to higher rates of anorexia and other eating disorders, or will it lead to higher rates of depression, when kids and youth are unable to achieve these unrealistic standards of beauty? What in the world happened to the notion that internal beauty is what really matters? So many unanswered questions; but one thing I know for sure... Toddlers and Tiaras is a form of child abuse.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


Just over a week ago, I was getting my hair cut by the friendliest and most outgoing hairdresser I've ever encountered. George must be in his late 50's, and is an immigrant from the Czech Republic.

So as most hairdressers do, George asked me about my life. "What are you planning on doing after high school?" I replied, telling him that I would be studying in the faculty of Management, and majoring in Sustainability. Through the mirror in front of me, I could see the puzzled look on his face. "Sustainability... like, what is that?"

I was shocked. What is sustainability? What isn't about sustainability these days? But I guess I must remember that George is a little bit older than myself, and I must remember that this whole "green movement" is a fairly new concept. So I tried to explain to George what exactly it is that I will be studying. It proved itself to be a difficult task.
In the week following my hair cut with George, I began noticing, in everything I did, a gross number of things relating to sustainability. Each day, I came across at least a few, if not a hand full, of things related to the notion of sustaining our resources.
  • I attended a job interview for a summer camp where we discussed the sustainable food practices of the company
  • at "Bands for Berna" our guest speakers enlightened us on the concept of sustainable development in third world nations
  • in my Lit 12 class, we learned how William Wordsworth may have been the first poet to ever introduce the concepts of consumerism and sustainability
  • in Geography, I watched a PowerPoint outlining methods of alternative energy and compared how sustainable each energy agent is
  • I wrote a cover letter for a sustainable, organic, and fair-trade bistro
  • I engaged in an argument about the sustainable benefits of cutting meat out of your diet
  • I saw a student in the library at school, re-inserting his piece of paper into the printer so that he could use both sides. When someone asked him what he was doing, he replied, "I'm being sustainable."
  • at the CTS Amazing Race, of course there were no plastic water bottles at the finish line, because sustainability is one of the fundamental values of Catching the Spirit
  • as I rode the bus one night, I eavesdropped on a conversation about how busing is becoming the only option for transportation with gas prices being so high... and busing is sustainable!
  • at my DSLC meeting, we discussed how we can make adjustments next year towards more sustainable practices
  • I listened to 2 classmates debate the sustainability of fishing
Sustainability is all around us. Everywhere. Every day. And while I was shocked that George was unsure as to what sustainability is; that also gives me great hope in the direction our world is headed. If only a few generations back, the idea of sustaining our world was unheard of, then to look at how far we've come today, to see how common the concept  has become in our world gives me great faith.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Bands for Berna

It's amazing what can be accomplished when a few passionate souls put their minds to it! Last night was the (MOB)ilizer's "Bands for Berna" fundraising event, raising money for our Adopt-a-Village project in Berna, India.

For several months, a small group of (MOB)ilizers dedicated much of their free time to coordinating local musicians, finding an appropriate venue, asking for donations, and advertising their hearts out. It may have been stressful, and we certainly learned a lot throughout; but as we cleaned up the last microphone and counted the last toonie of funds raised, the sense of pride felt was more rewarding than anything else.
It's almost hard to put into words how I feel when I'm with (MOB)ilizers. It's a different feeling than I get from being with my classmates, my sports teams or even my friends. I feel an overwhelming vibe of optimism, I see endless smiles and hear uncontrollable laughter. I engage in thoughtful conversation and share warm-hearted hugs. Sometimes we break into spontaneous sing-alongs or have spur-of-the-moment dance parties. The (MOB)ilizers come from all walks of life, whether you be a 4'9 Brazilian, or an elephant-loving bookworm; it seems like all MOBsters share one common passion. That may be a passion for abolishing local homelessness, or a passion for giving chilren in Kenya the opportunity to receive an elementary level education. Whatever your particular passion may be, on the larger scale every (MOB)ilizer just wants to see something different about our world, and have the motivation to fight for it.

We are the MOB.
We are the MASSES.
We are the MOVEMENT.

And so, after an incredible night of local talent and love that was "Bands for Berna", I left with that warm fuzzy feeling inside. I'm not sure where my MOB road is heading. I'm not sure if I'll be part of the (MOB)ilizers in Halifax next year. I'm not sure if I'll put on that blue and yellow shirt, or crowd pump at We Day. But, just per say, that really was my last ever MOB event... I will always remember that beautiful night and the indescribable feeling I felt afterwards. The (MOB)ilizers, I will hold close to my heart.

(MOB)ilizer Jeka Ayson sets the tone for the evening

Chris Yan and Eric Ma

The Vancouver office staff
Neil Legaspi on his flashy blue guitar
Raffle Prizes!
The Pizza Ladies
Marvelous Masters of Ceremonies

Anna and Ryan from Free the Children and Me to We inspiring the crowd

The Beautiful Jakki Mortlock

(MOB)ilizer Noah Gotfrit on Bass

41st Avenue Tearing Up The Stage
Coming all the way from Bown Island; The Worx
(MOB)ilizers on 3!

Organizer Extraordinaires Shevaun and Yuki


Saturday, June 2, 2012

All Hands on Deck

On Saturday morning, I woke up excited for our Catching the Spirit overnight leadership training; a weekend of team-building, new friendships and magical nature moments. On Sunday, I left Capilano River regional park with more excitement, more unforgettable memories, and higher expectations for the summer than I had ever imagined.

Whether it be the zero waste challenge where every park achieved their zero-waste goal, or the survivor challenge where we were informed that a storm was nearing and we needed to assemble a shelter using very limited resources; whatever the challenge, the Peer Leaders and Mentorvisors were pushing their comfort zones, encouraging one another and putting their leadership qualities to the test. We played one game where four people combined to create a super human; one person was the eyes, one the legs, one the hands and one the ears. Now there is a game that involves communication and utmost trust.

Over my years with CTS, I’ve come to realize that the program really changes depending on the people involved. This year –where only three out of the ten “Mentorvisors” are returning from last year—has an overall different feeling from previous years. This year we have a bat echolocation expert, a master of every campfire song in the books, two devout vegans, one miniature giraffe, and a whole load of passionate bicycle enthusiasts. With so many unique personalities, it’s amazing how united we are as a group. When the Mentorvisors partook in an activity titled “The Leadership Wheel”, the outcome was as follows: all five of the female Mentorvisors (plus Nat, the Program Coordinator) were determined “Nurturers”, and all five of the male variety were dubbed “Sages”, meaning that they are the type of leader who binds all leadership styles together.

During our Saturday night campfire, I took a step back to observed everything that was going on around me; Peer Leaders were discussing visions they had for their summers at camp, some musically minded fellows were in the corner singing, laughing and jamming out on their guitar. There was a supervisor who was exercising abdominal muscles with his hilarious jokes, and at the other side of the pit, there were some Peer Leaders learning more about each other’s personal lives and conversing their plans for post-secondary. I sat back and watched this all unfold, as I realized how strikingly different this group is from previous years. That is what I love; year after year, I could come back to CTS and never lose interest, because it is not so much about the program itself, but about the people involved. It just goes to show that CTS’s motto couldn’t be more accurate; “run by youth for youth”. And as Nat always reminds us, “this is your program, guys”.

So when the summer rolls around each year, and when people ask me where I’m off to for the weekend, they give me blank stares as I answer, “Catching the Spirit”. I take great pride in explaining to them what exactly that is. No it is not just any summer camp, and it is not even just an environmental stewardship summer camp. Honestly, when they ask, I could explain it to my friends as being anything I want it to be. And in a few weekends from now when the Burnaby Lake leadership team gets together for our in-park training, we will use everything we’ve learned about teamwork, sustainability, communication, trust, self-awareness, goal-setting, stewardship, empowerment… etc, to create a plan for our summer that is magical, exciting, unforgettable, but most of all, everything we want it to be.