If you’ve been online, you’ve probably heard of Lil Tay by now. She’s a nine-year-old girl who has more than 2.7 million followers on Instagram and an affinity for aiming swift kicks at luxury cars to prove her ownership. Her (now deleted) Instagram posts showed her hanging around the likes of Lil Pump and Jake Paul while swearing profusely. Her favourite word appears to be “bitch.” She’s even getting her own show on the Zeus network called Life With Lil Tay.
It’s easy to treat her as a novelty. Her posts have undoubtedly been passed around by everybody who wants to gawk at a foul-mouthed young girl bragging about money. People seem to either embrace her content and pass it on to their friends, further boosting her popularity, or dismiss her as simply a twisted kid, exploiting the curiosity of adults for her own gain.
Why don’t we feel more uncomfortable about the story of Lil Tay? We shouldn’t blindly accept that a nine-year-old would rather swear, hang out with people twice her age, and brag about luxury cars than do typical nine-year-old things. She should be wanting to play outside with her friends, or watch the latest Disney Channel show.
There are countless child stars in the world today, and who knows what’s going on behind closed doors. However, there are two glaring examples of child exploitation and abuse that hid behind fame and attention. These are Honey Boo Boo and the kids from the DaddyOFive Youtube channel.
Honey Boo Boo, also known as Alana Thompson, often competed in children’s pageants and got a reality show on TLC showcasing her family’s daily life. What nobody knew was that her mother’s boyfriend was a child molester and had raped Alana’s older sister when she was just eight years old. When it was finally uncovered, her mom took her daughters and left him, promising Alana that she would never have to see him again.
You would think that after the show got cancelled, she would be able to live a cameraless life. But nope, her mom decided to showcase her 300-pound weight loss journey in another reality show, Mama June: From Not to Hot. Alana was unwillingly put in the spotlight again.
The mom and dad of the DaddyOFive YouTube channel uploaded “pranks” performed on their kids, who were often crying hysterically on camera. Their disturbing content continued until it was discovered that the kids didn’t consent to the “pranks.” The couple lost custody of the two youngest children to their biological mother and had their YouTube channels removed.
Thankfully, both of those situations were eventually resolved through the help of authorities. But that doesn’t change that kids suffered for the sake of entertainment.
There’s no definitive evidence that Lil Tay is being exploited or abused by her family, but at the very least her her family seems to be unhealthily molding her for viral fame. Why else would they be so tacitly approving of a young girl who isn’t even old enough to walk home by herself acting like someone much older?
The most worrying evidence that something isn’t right with Lil Tay is a picture on her Instagram story of a black background with only the words “help me” on it, posted shortly after everything was deleted from her Instagram. All her management has said since then is that Lil Tay is going through “the most difficult time in her life at the moment.” Seriously? Somebody should not have to go through the “most difficult time in [their] life” at age nine.
Lil Tay’s mother, Angela, has also revealed that Lil Tay’s older brother, Jason, is the one filming the Instagram posts. It also appears that he’s her manager and the one who’s coaching her on what to say. He claimed to be “the sole decision maker in regards to all of Lil Tay’s press requests and business opportunities.”
In a video used in both Next Shark and The Atlantic articles, Jason appears to be stumbling through a sentence that he wants Lil Tay to say while she looks confused. He tells her to redo a line and “be more ignorant.” She honestly looks fed up with having to keep up this persona. Also, a 16-year-old being a little kid’s manager? That sounds like a recipe for disaster. He seems to be using Lil Tay as his ticket to fame, instead of letting her have a childhood.
Ultimately, what people are often looking for by posting content like Lil Tay’s is views and attention. Views equal money in today’s online world, and any attention is good for keeping the brand alive. Lil Tay got millions of views on her Instagram posts, which was the goal. She will be getting many more with the addition of her new show.
We like to watch famous people for a multitude of reasons. Their fame fascinates us. We see them on TV and magazine covers and celebrate them while we ridicule them. We long to be famous, yet we also pride ourselves on not having stooped to their level of “lesser intelligence.” We deride them for having so much money while we wish to be rich. The twisted perception and reception of stars is enough to cause famous adults to break down, let alone children.
I saw Lil Tay on the cover of Maclean’s magazine the other day and it made me stop and really question the arrogant sneer I saw displayed before me. Running my eyes down the lines of magazines, I couldn’t help but wonder what really lay behind these glamorized images that stare at us from the shelves every day. Despite my disgust and concern, I still couldn’t help but pick up that issue of Maclean’s magazine and read over the cover story.
We’re all just staring and watching as the show plays out before us. Why don’t we question more? Why do we let exploitation play out until something goes really wrong? And when it does go wrong, why do we still watch, draw enjoyment from the next iteration of this cycle, and let it all continue?
We shouldn’t simply take Lil Tay at face value. Although it’s not our habit, we need to start thinking critically about the people we see in the spotlight, especially when they’re so young. We need to be careful not to feed into a form of media that has demonstrated the capacity to be harmful to children on more than one occasion.