Mommy’s Little Lolita: Another Jon Benet Ramsey In The Making
July 7, 2008
The 11-year-old girl whose beauty treatments cost $600 a month to make her look like Barbie.
At 11, Sasha Bennington is too young to remember the days when Jordan was just a country and being branded ‘fake’ was something to be ashamed of.
But maybe the youngster’s biggest tragedy is that her mother, Jayne, 31, is in no hurry to paint a picture of how it used to be.
(More images at source site)
Jayne is talking breezily about how Sasha had her first set of false nails glued on at eight, and now enjoys the sort of rigorous beauty regime - hair extensions, fake tans, pedicures - that was once the preserve of porn stars and Dolly Parton, not school children from Burnley in Lancashire.
Still, times have changed. ‘All the kids are at it now,’ insists Jayne. ‘We spend about £300 a month on beauty treatments for her.
‘Sasha’s friends are the same. All girls their age are. Of course they are! Why else would you be able to buy make-up for pre-teens at Boots?
‘Perhaps it’s different in country areas, where they don’t need to grow up so fast. But, around big cities, girls have got to be more forward and act older than they are. That’s just the way it is.
‘I don’t understand why people get so upset about it. None of it is permanent. Tans wash off. Hair extensions come out. Why all the fuss?’
Just over a year ago, there was fuss galore when Jayne entered Sasha (then ten) in the junior Miss British Isles competition - Britain’s first adult-style beauty pageant for children.
It wasn’t an altogether beautiful experience. Jayne tells me she was uneasy about the way the contest was run, citing odd rules about how much make-up should be applied to those pre-pubescent faces and including confusing clauses about how contestants could bring make-up artists but should try to look ‘natural’.
At first, I think she is criticising the organisers for encouraging the children to look too adult. Wrong!
She means the girls - some of whom were still toddling - weren’t allowed to look adult enough.
‘Because this country doesn’t have a tradition of this sort of thing, the organisers didn’t quite know how to play things. Looking back, it was all very conservative. They kept saying they wanted the girls to look natural. Why? Let them slap it on! What’s the harm?’
Earlier this year, Jayne was given free rein with the blusher when Sasha became the first British child to dip a scarlet-tipped toe into the American pageant scene.
Jayne was at her side, helping her practise her sashay.
The pair took a documentary team with them, and found what you’d expect at a U.S. beauty pageant held in a down-market-looking Texan hotel: mums parading their daughters like prize poodles, kids who look disturbingly like mini Celine Dions, and enough lipgloss to pose a drowning risk to the tiniest entrants.
There was a jaw-dropping moment in the film - Sasha, Beauty Queen At 11, to be shown on July 14 on BBC3 at 9pm - when the pageant veteran charged with showing Sasha the ropes demonstrates how to walk like a beauty queen.
She explains how to turn your body round while holding the judges’ eyes, before flipping your head round at the last minute ‘like that Exorcist child’.
Sasha might not have won, but Jayne loved the process, describing it as ‘the best fun ever’. ‘It was just fantastic,’ she says.
‘What you see in U.S. pageants really is what you get. It’s weird, but brilliant. They take it so seriously, which can only be good for someone like Sasha.
‘All the mums were up at 6am so they could get started on hair and make-up.
‘And everything is just the best. No expense is spared. You have to spend £2,000 on a pageant dress over there. I thought £500 for one here was a lot. The one we bought Sasha was out of this world.
‘We went to this huge shop where there was every colour and style you could imagine. Sasha just ran through all the dresses, she was in her element.
‘Back home, we have to buy an adult dress and get it altered to fit, but there they are totally geared up for girls her age.
‘The pageant was like a dream. The girls are encouraged to put on masses of make-up. It was just like a big theatrical event, like being transported to another world.’
Underpinning the fairy tale, though, was a deep desire to win.
‘I fell in love with a pink dress that made her look like a princess, but the people advising us told us you should always match the dress to the eyes - so we went for green.
‘That was OK, though. I wasn’t there to have the dress I wanted. I was there so that Sasha could win. I was amazed at how much there was to learn, but I knew I was in the hands of the experts.’
It seems that the main lesson learned was that her darling daughter could look like a plastic Barbie, and be rewarded with a sash to prove it.
‘People always said she looked like a Barbie in Miss British Isles, but the girls in Texas truly did,’ enthuses Jayne.
‘It was wonderful. I watched them on the catwalk, with their arms held so precisely, walking slowly and turning just so. They reminded me of little ballerina dolls.’
What sort of mother wants her daughter to look like a doll? The image I have in my head is of Exorcist Barbie, but Jayne sees something else entirely.
Her response to the pageant pictures of Sasha - looking shocking with deep red lips and heavily smoked eyes - probably says more about her than her daughter.
‘The pictures are amazing, and Sasha is such a lucky girl to have them. I’d love to have those sort of pictures, nice pictures, rather than ones you hide away because you can’t bear to look at them.’
It was about the same time she started dabbling in beauty pageants that Jayne declared she wanted her daughter to be the next Jordan. She still does.
‘Of course. Jordan is her idol and I fully support her in that. She’s a great role model, this really down-to-earth woman who has made a big success of her life. She’s a better role model than Britney Spears - any day.’
Jayne always saw the public parading of Sasha as crucial to this goal, so maybe it’s not surprising that she pushed the child Stateside, into a world few in Britain understand.
She chatters away about Sasha’s media ‘career’, believing her daughter is a bona fide celebrity, and is proud to have been instrumental in making that happen.
‘She’s been on TV with Lorraine Kelly. What girl of her age can say that?
”I’m really proud that I’ve helped her get to this stage by giving her all the opportunities I can. Going to the States was just the next stage in all of this, and it’s been worthwhile.
‘We’ve been told she could have a really good future in American pageants, but anything is possible - film, adverts, mainstream modelling. I want Sasha to have all the options.’
In the forthcoming documentary, Jayne takes Sasha to a major agency, in the hope that she will be signed up.
The model booker says a vehement ‘no’, horrified by her portfolio, and tells Jayne that clients want their child models to look like children, and that for this sort of career success she would have to stop bleaching Sasha’s hair and encouraging her to wear plastic nails. Jayne refuses to comply.
It comes as no surprise that Jayne used to be a model herself, and one who worked in the ‘glamour’ side of the business.
She started at 23 - which, she explains, was ‘far too late’ for real career success - and now believes that earlier is better, in order to maximise profit and notoriety.
One of her own happiest memories is of entering a beauty pageant and winning the coveted sash. ‘I was on top of the world. One day I was an ordinary clerical worker, the next everyone was looking at me. It was wonderful.
‘I’d never been a particularly pretty child. I was always short and fat - not like Sasha - but I did OK with the modelling. Who knows what would have happened if I’d started earlier?’
Is it a coincidence that Jayne would have been working as a promotional model when Jordan came along and changed all the rules about how restrictive such a career can be.
She boasts she has met the pneumatic queen of the glamour world, and was even photographed with her.
They were both products of their time. As she watched Jordan achieve extraordinary mainstream success, Jayne tried to forge her own path in the new world, where everything crass and ostentatious was celebrated rather than shunned.
She set up a limo hire business, and tried to get a foothold in the reality TV world, appearing on Wife Swap. Then she turned her attentions to Sasha - getting her in front of the cameras became paramount.
When I ask whether this latest pageant business is just about her trying to realise her own thwarted ambitions through her daughter, she is offended - but only because the question assumes her career is over, which she denies.
‘I might go back and do some more modelling. Who knows? If something comes up. I’m not past it yet.’
She maintains it has always been Sasha who has driven her own ‘career’ forward. Even as a baby she was a ‘total poser’, playing up for the cameras and basking in the attention.
‘She’s always wanted to be a model, 100per cent. I’m just helping her do what she wants, like any good parent would. It’s not pushing her into anything. I hate it when people say I’m a pushy parent. I’m not. I just want the best for her.’
Yet can ‘the best’ really involve holding her hand as she steps into a terrifyingly sexualised world? It is Jayne herself who says that her daughter looks ‘about 18′ when she has full make-up on.
‘But, even without make-up, she looks about 13 or 14, certainly older than her age.’
She thinks this is a good thing and brushes off questions about unwelcome male attention.
‘People go on about the paedophile thing, but they’ve got that one wrong. Paedophiles don’t want girls who look 18. If anything, it’s the fresh-faced younger ones they want.
‘And so what if she poses in a bikini? There are plenty of 11-year-old girls on beaches in bikinis. If people have a problem with it, I’d say it is their problem, not mine.
‘Besides, as I keep saying, this is what Sasha wants.’
And what Sasha wants, Sasha clearly gets. Last Christmas, Jayne and her husband, Martin, a builder who works all over the UK and is barely at home, spent £26,000 on Sasha’s presents, which included a swimming pool.
Martin seems to exert no influence at all – ‘I leave all that to Jayne,’ he says.
Has Jayne ever stopped Sasha doing anything? ‘She wanted to get her belly button pierced and I said no,’ she says.
This is puzzling. Sasha clearly has her belly button pierced, and is happy to display the evidence in her photo shoots. What happened? She sniggers. ‘Maybe I gave in. Yeah. I’m not always that strict with her.
‘People can say what they want. I know there is nothing bad about what I’m doing. I’m just helping my daughter make something of her life. Any good mum would do the same.’
After our interview, Jayne will be taking Sasha to cheerleading classes, in a further bid to realise that all-American dream.
She makes Sasha practise her cheerleading wherever she goes - even pushing her into the middle of the floor in restaurants. Why?
‘You have to be out there, being noticed, even at a bus stop. What if Andrew Lloyd Webber walks past?’
What will become of the child, who turns just 12 in two weeks? We might hope for a reverse teenage rebellion - one in which she dyes her hair mousey brown and professes a desire to study political science at university - but it’s unlikely.
Ask Sasha how she sees herself and she replies: ‘Blonde, pretty, dumb - I don’t need brains.’ Her mum laughs her head off at this, proud that the child is so like her.