Early last Sunday morning, Dakota Houle looked more ready for a Saturday night, dressed in a short pink-and-turquoise lace dress, embedded with silver sparkles. Her blonde hair was delicately pinned back with a matching barrette.
Fifteen-month-old Houle was about to join 31 other competitors from across Ontario to participate in the Sweet Darling Divas Pageant at Vaughan’s Holiday Inn Express. Ranging in age from 11 months to 19 years, the girls (and one boy) competed in beauty, theme wear, and outfit-of-choice categories.
The vision of Cindy Silvera and Lindsay Gilmour, Sweet Darling Divas was inspired by the U.S. reality-TV series Toddlers & Tiaras—though it’s a toned-down version. It’s Canada’s first cash-prize pageant for the under-20 set, with $700 up for grabs, and one of the few semi-glitz competitions north of the border, complete with makeup and primped hair. “We decided to…bring a different system to Ontario,” said Silvera.
Though Silvera liked the makeup-free aspect of other under-20 pageants in Canada, she wanted Sweet Darling Divas to be more glamourous. Contestants were still expected to dress age-appropriately—spray tans and false lashes were only permitted for children six and up, and flippers (fake teeth) were strictly off-limits.
While the event was relatively free of the sexualized costumes that characterize some American kids’ pageants, the audience was filled with familiar Toddlers and Tiaras archetypes. A grandma in a leopard-print top encouraged competitors to smile, fathers curled hair, and moms wore their daughters’ names on bedazzled t-shirts.
Candy was everywhere—at the back of the room, on the registration table, and in the hands of moms as they bribed their kids onto the stage. The token boy, 16-month-old Jacob, stole the show by dancing to LMFAO’s “I’m Sexy and I Know It,” changing from a grey suit to hot-pink, zebra-print underwear, worn over his diaper.
Houle placed, but didn’t win any cash prizes. Due to a limited vocabulary, she was unable to comment on her showing.