Des Moines political activist Heather Ryan, a candidate running in the Democratic primary for Iowa’s 3rd Congressional District, wrote a book four years ago in which she used the terms “ungrateful cunt” and “psychotic bitch” to describe individual women she worked with in the child pageant and reality TV industry. She also described two female Republican politicians as “vagina endowed wastes of human flesh.” And after a bitter falling out with her main client, she made a short film in which her character kidnaps and plans to murder a child pageant star, who in the film has striking similarities to the six-year-old child whose career she helped manage.
From 2009 to 2012, Ryan worked as a talent manager for Eden Wood, a beauty pageant contestant who was four years old when they first met. Wood starred in the TV show Toddlers and Tiaras and she and her mother, Mickie Wood, received considerable national and international media coverage, particularly on cable TV news. But after a dispute over finances and licensing shares in May of 2012, Ryan split with Mickie and subsequently went through a long legal battle with the former client.
In April of 2013, Ryan self-published a “tell-all” book, Unleashing A Momster, about the entire experience. It is on Amazon and is available for a free download on a Kindle or a Kindle app on a computer. She also has a public YouTube channel where she’s posted over 70 videos about child pageants, politics and various short films.
The 278-page book describes in a mostly chronological order all of the occurrences, major and minor, of Ryan’s activities in the then-new confluence of reality TV and children’s beauty pageants. She starts off the book with an introduction of herself and her interest in politics and pageants. In her current congressional run, which she launched just under a month ago, Ryan grabbed early media coverage by describing herself as “slightly to the left of Jesus” and has claimed she’s a strong “progressive” in the race. However, in her book, she describes herself as a “feminist” and four sentences later calls two female politicians “vagina endowed wastes of human flesh.”
“There are two things I know in this world; Politics and Pageants,” Ryan wrote. “I very well may be the one and only beauty pageant enthusiast who is also a blazing liberal and feminist. The fact that most feminists either overlook, or decline to acknowledge, is that looks do, indeed, matter. A strong stage presence and a general sense of personal grooming is essential for all women in general, but even more so for those of us who aspire to pursue public office. You need not look far to prove my theory. Merely look at the vagina endowed wastes of human flesh, Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin. Two of the dumbest women in the universe achieved incredibly high political positions merely because they were hotties.”
(There are numerous grammatical and spelling errors in the book – Starting Line is publishing them here as they were written. It should also be noted that Ryan wrote the book herself, and aside from Facebook posts and emails that she documents in it, it is impossible to know if how she describes certain events is accurate.)
Ryan had choice words to describe many of the women who angered her, including Rosie Gillespie, a mother from Pennsylvania who was part of Ryan’s entrance into reality TV. Ryan ran a small business in the early 2000s, Glamour Girl Dress Up, that hosted children’s birthday parties, and a reality TV show contacted her while looking for a dramatic, over-the-top birthday party to film. She led them to Gillespie, but got frustrated with the mother’s behavior during the film shoot. Ryan describes Gillespie in her book as a “psycho bitch,” “this bitch,” “Rosie the psycho-nut,” and “this lunatic,” adding that she had a “teeny, tiny little brain.”
Gloria Allred drew Ryan’s ire in particular after a tough interview she conducted with Mickie. Ryan labeled Allred a “bitch attorney,” a “Media Whore,” a “Media Whore Extraordinaire,” and commented, “The only person I would like to punch in the face more than Gloria Allred is Ann Coulter.”
But Ryan’s biggest target was Mickie Wood, the pageant mother who Ryan spent nearly three years in a business arrangement with. Ryan often refers to her in the book as “Mickie MuthaFucking Wood” and at one point calls her an “ungrateful cunt” (a phrase which she puts in bold type), among many other things.
The two met when Ryan was casting actors for a short, amateur film she was planning that would be a “mockumentary” of sorts about child pageants. When Mickie sent in an application for her daughter, Eden, to be cast, Ryan feigned ignorance of Eden’s previous appearance on an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras in the hopes that she wouldn’t have to pay her.
“I figured if I played totally retarded, she wouldn’t realize that the kid was a shoe in for the role of the main character, Heidi, who wins the Ultimate Grand Supreme and thus, she wouldn’t ask to be paid for the acting job,” Ryan wrote. “I was right.”
After filming the movie, Ryan soon took on Mickie and Eden as clients and began a publicity effort to boost Eden’s profile in the beauty pageant scene, hyping Eden as one of the most important and beloved child stars in the country. Ryan described how they would shoot videos of Eden competing at pageants and how they would selectively edit the footage to make Eden appear like a major winner or at least an important contender, even if Eden actually lost.
One effort that worked particularly well was the creation of a music video for Eden that was filmed at the Valley West Mall in West Des Moines, Iowa. Ryan wrote the lyrics and recruited local children to attend the filming. The video would rack up over 1.5 million views on YouTube.
With the use of social media, YouTube videos and constant outreach to the press, Eden’s profile quickly shot up in prominence and she and her mother landed many cable TV news interviews.
Ryan describes in detail how she prepared Mickie for those shows, which were at times contentious due to the controversial nature of child beauty pageants. In a chapter Ryan titled “CNN HLN – Defending 7 Year Old Exotic Dancers,” she brags about how effective her strategy was to defend a viral video of scantily-clad seven year olds doing a dance routine with sexually suggestive moves.
This is the video in question:
“The kids were truly, truly talented,” Ryan wrote. “So I told Mickie that she needed to defend the girls and their wardrobe choices as well as their choreography … So Mickie was instructed to defend, defend, defend. One of Mickie’s favorite sayings was, ‘I’m the mama, I know what’s best for my daughter.’ So I worked that into the defense of these little girls and instructed her to keep with the story line that parents know the boundaries for their children.”
Ryan was pleased with the results of the nationally-televised interview.
“She stayed on message with my talking points and the interview went well,” she wrote. “Mickie was becoming a mouthpiece for all things pageant/controversial while spewing sound bites that I single handedly spun. It was a thing of beauty and I was freaking proud of the massive pile of shit I was feeding to the viewing audience. These folks believed that Mickie was relatively articulate, a master of pop culture and a reasonably decent mother. Man, did I have people SNOWED – it was intoxicating!”
One interviewer that Ryan particularly liked was Kathy Griffin. She prepared an extensive set of talking points for Mickie for that show, and suggested making a joke about Griffin being on her period in case the interview became combative. Hand puppets were to be involved.
“Kathy has a HUGE following of gay men; she calls them ‘her gays,'” Ryan wrote. “If she attacks pageants as an institution, you can tell her that she’s not allowed to be anti-pageant because ‘her gays’ LOVE pageants and if she’s not nice to you, you will tell the gay population on her and they will be very upset … Make a joke of it and be playful with her gay following and how she’s required to be a fan of pageants because of it. If she get’s mean (which I don’t expect, but it could happen) tell her that whenever your 4 year old is cranky you’re forced to bring out ‘Bobby Sue and Billy Jo’ (I don’t remember if those are their names). Then bring out the hand puppets and scold Kathy for being rude. I envision a few of your lines as: Bobby Sue: Kathy, you’re very crank today, do you need to take some Midol? Billy Joe: What’s Midol, is that like the Eden Wood Pageant Doll? Bobby Sue: No Billy Joe, when women’s have the Pre-Menstral Syndromes they take Midol to put them in a better mood. Hold on Kathy, I think I have some here in my purse.”
At another point in the story, in a chapter titled “Music Videos and Fake Philanthropy,” Ryan describes how she enticed Entertainment Tonight to cover the filming of Eden’s viral “Cutie Patootie” video by saying that Eden would be making a major charitable contribution afterward. It was actually just some toys. They filmed a promotional video of Eden at Blank Children’s Hospital in Des Moines in which the Woods encouraged giving to charity.
“I gathered several donations from generous friends and went shopping for additional items listed on the Blank Children’s Hospital website to make a pretty display of toys for ‘Eden to Donate’ to sick, hospitalized children, in honor of her 6th birthday,” Ryan wrote. “Mickie purchased a bunch of toys for Eden at the Wal-Mart when she arrived in Iowa, so that Eden wouldn’t see other children, regardless of their life threatening illnesses, receive toys when she did not … Eden was a true professional and never batted an eye at the fake philanthropy that I forced upon her.”
There are many times in the book, however, that Ryan expresses deep concern over Eden’s well-being and what a life of reality TV and beauty pageants will do to her.
“Now, before I get a lot of shit about pushing this stage mom into pressuring her daughter to perform, I never, ever, ever told Mickie that she needed to pursue Eden’s career with such a sick fervor,” Ryan wrote. “I advised Mickie on my visions for different projects and the product that I needed to make them each successful. She then took the extreme approach to ensure that her daughter was the undisputed super-star of absolutely everything we pursued.”
Ryan insists that she tried to create a program for Eden to succeed that avoided causing long-lasting problems for the young girl.
“But my number one goal, always, was that we didn’t fuck up this kid’s life,” she wrote. “This is surely the reason I will never be a huge Hollywood Talent Agent – I have at least a few scruples and some things are just, well, gross. Eden was a child and it felt like we were betraying her by brazenly treating her as a commodity.”
And she apparently shot down several attempts to make Eden’s performances more risqué. There was one dance that Eden did that particularly frustrated Ryan, seen here:
And indeed, the videos of Eden on Ryan’s YouTube page don’t contain the degree of sexualization that were in the video of the seven year olds that Mickie defended on CNN.
Still, there are times where it seems that Ryan is using her concern about Eden simply to make more personal attacks on Mickie, including when it came to Eden’s lack of a real education. At multiple points in the book, Ryan refers to herself as an “academic,” and often criticized Mickie’s teaching career and the state she’s from – Arkansas.
“What she fails to mention – EVER – is that she was a Music and Drama teacher in Shitville, Arkansas,” Ryan wrote. “If you look on a map of the United States, it very well may have Taylor, AR as the absolute dead center of the nation’s sphincter. Education is NOT the strong suit of The One Tooth State and Mickie insisting that she was uniquely qualified to ensure that her child would have a normal life, and eventually attend college, was laughable to those of us in the know.”
About half of the book is not nearly as incendiary, including chapters where Ryan simply relates stories from the road as they went to various pageants, interviews or shot scenes on reality TV shows. Though Ryan still throws in plenty of random insults, including referring to various people as “white trash,” a “flaming bitch,” “nutty and over the top and flamboyant,” a “nut job,” and a “conniving bitch,” among other things.
The book eventually reaches the climax where Ryan’s frustrations with Mickie culminates in a falling out over the licensing rights to the “Cutey Patootie” song. VH1 wanted to use the song on one of their shows, and Heather took issue with how much Mickie’s attorney told her she would receive (40% and equal to what Mickie was getting), as well as how Mickie reacted to it.
Ryan posts the entire email exchange she had with the attorney and Mickie on the issue. Oddly, though this is Ryan’s own book, the content of the emails, as well as Ryan’s description of the situation afterward, actually makes Mickie and the attorney sound like the rational ones in the matter.
“After this back and forth, I was offended,” Ryan wrote. “I was so angry about her complete disregard for everything that I had done over the past two and a half years, not to mention the thought and effort that went into ‘The Plan’, that I didn’t even know where to go with my emotions.”
If you read the book on Kindle, the entire episode starts at 89% of the way through the book, or around Location 4670. This all happened in May of 2012.
After this falling out, a protracted legal battle ensued over various licensing rights and contract agreements. Ryan says that she refused a potential settlement between the two parties largely because it contained a nondisclosure clause, and Ryan wanted to write about the experience.
At this point the story gets particularly dark.
Ryan embarked on a public campaign of revenge against her former client, posting mocking videos to her YouTube page aimed in theory at Mickie, but which actually targeted Eden. Her first video was a parody of the “Cutey Patootie” song, in which a provocatively-dressed young girl sings a reworked song that appears to take aim at both Mickie and Eden.
Ryan says she timed that video to release right before the season finale of Eden’s World to cause maximum damage. These videos attracted additional legal action from Mickie, which Ryan dismissed as nonsense.
“Somehow, Mickie convinced herself that my life was relegated merely to an odd obsession with her and Eden,” Ryan wrote. “She insisted that every project I worked on during the summer of 2012, after we parted ways, was somehow about them, and that every client with whom I worked secretly pined to be Eden Wood.”
There seems to be four videos in all that Ryan made in response to Mickie, but one stands out as especially disturbing. Titled “The Grand Supreme,” Ryan and her friends shot a seven-minute short film that depicted a reporter – played by Ryan – covering a news story of a young beauty pageant contender who mysteriously disappeared from her home. She interviews the child’s family and neighbors, one of whom blames the child’s abduction on her participation in pageants.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if her seductive ways, how she does it in the videos and how she does it on stage, and how she’s always sexual and dresses all trashy and stuff,” a woman says in the video. “I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s why she got kidnapped. Because she’s a slut, like her mother.”
In the story the local sheriff arrests the child’s mother. However, it’s then revealed that the reporter – again, played by Ryan – did the abduction herself, shows her in a basement where the child – played by one of Ryan’s daughters – is bound and gagged, with Ryan telling the girl, “You’re dead already.”
Here’s that part of the video:
Obviously, this caused some blowback, as Ryan explained in the book.
“The Momster was absolutely convinced that our 6 minute masterpiece was not only about them but it also put her daughter in extreme physical danger – seriously,” Ryan writes. “While the short film was indeed about a pageant contestant, just because the main character (Christina Samuels – a character required by the competition rules) was blond, she contended that it was written about Eden. In reality, the main character happened to have blonde hair because MY DAUGHTER … HAD BLOND HAIR. That was it, there was no more to the story. But in Mickie’s piss-ant sized mind, the abduction of my main character in our ‘Thriller/Suspense’ film (a genre that was chose from a hat for the competition), she convinced herself that I was encouraging someone, somewhere, to abduct Eden Wood. I. Am. Serious. Really. She thought that I was intentionally encouraging some sicko to do harm. I’m convinced Mickie is the sicko in this scenario.”
There are a number of clear problems with that explanation. In the film the child is from Taylor, Arkansas (population: 544), the same hometown of Eden Wood. The film’s child got her start on a “Kids and Crowns” TV show, certainly an allusion to Toddlers and Tiaras. The film also says that the child was in a music video. Repeatedly in her book, Ryan points out how her idea for Eden doing the “Cutey Patootie” music video was very unique, and that few to no other beauty pageant contenders had their own music video. The name of Ryan’s character is Nickie Plywood, clearly a reworking of the name Mickie Wood, although the journalist Ryan plays appears to be much more symbolic of Ryan herself.
And if you read the entirety of Ryan’s book and become familiar with her thinking, the content of Ryan’s final speech is particularly unsettling.
“They just arrested your momma for your murder,” Ryan says. “Isn’t that awesome? I love it. Isn’t that great? You’re already dead. I took you from a washed-up has-been into a somebody. I made you news. That’s what we do. Us short, fat runners-up. That’s what we do. We may not get the crown. We may not get the trophy. But we’re the movers and the shakers of the world. We make the beautiful people lose. You know, without me, you’d be nothing. When they find your body, you’ll be all pretty. You’ll have your crown and your trophy and your sash. You’ll be so beautiful when they finally find you. I think it’s great. You’re already dead. Funny. I wasn’t a big deal in high school. People like you made fun of people like me. Now? I made you famous. You should thank me.”
This could very easily be seen as a speech Ryan is giving about her life to Eden Wood. Throughout the book she argues that Eden would not have anywhere near the success she got were it not for Ryan’s competent management and creative ideas. Ryan also makes it clear later on in the book that her biggest frustration with Mickie is that she didn’t thank Ryan enough for Ryan’s efforts in Eden’s career, which makes the final sentence in the film take on a potential extra meaning.
Ryan claimed that Mickie was concerned the video might encourage others to hurt Eden. However, it’s not a big stretch of the imagination to think that this film was Ryan portraying a fantasy in which she herself kidnapped and murdered Eden Wood, who was then six years old.
Finally, Ryan’s book ends in a peculiar fashion. Early on she writes that the purpose of the book is in part to make peace with the situation, and admits her role in the negative parts of Eden’s life.
“I am, undoubtedly, partially to blame for the predicament in which Eden now finds herself,” Ryan wrote. “I cannot shrug off my part in this red hot mess. Indeed, my portion was essential – and it is from this historical account that I hope that not only can the record be established but also, with any luck, maybe we can make some of the wrongs right again.”
For a while it seems like Ryan’s account is intended to expose the dangers of the child beauty pageant industry and to make sense of her own part in it. But she never gets there, and her criticism of it is mostly limited to Mickie’s role in it. Though Ryan chides Mickie for some of the outfits she puts Eden in, during the “CNN HLN – Defending 7 Year Old Exotic Dancers” chapter, she voices no such concern about the broader industry and defends the choices in the provocative video.
Nor does she seem to indicate that her reason for splitting with Mickie is because of her deep concerns for Eden. Instead, as she repeatedly states throughout the book, she was getting increasingly angry that Mickie was not thanking her enough for Ryan’s role in Eden’s stardom. And all she does on the matter of “make some of the wrongs right again” is encourage people in the child beauty pageant industry to not hire Mickie or Eden in the future.
In the final chapter of the book she absolves herself of any and all responsibility.
“As she and her legal team sauntered away with their tails between their legs, I concluded that I can claim simply that ‘I just did my job’, which was to make my child client famous,” Ryan wrote. “While I initially considered it a cop out, because the very same statement was made by the likes of the Nazis, in this case, it really was true. Just as one wouldn’t blame the famous gymnastics coach, Liang Chow, if Olympic Gold Medalist and Iowan, Shawn Johnson, fell to the demons of fame, I cannot be held accountable for the pitfalls to which Mickie and Eden succumbed as a result of my diligence.”
There is significantly more material that Ryan has created that is publicly and readily available online. And the quotes in this story are just a fraction of the questionable statements Ryan makes in her book. Ryan ran for Congress in Kentucky in 2008, and she was involved in several public controversies there as well.
Starting Line reached out to Ryan this morning to give her an opportunity to comment on her past statements and videos. This was her response:
“In response to your apparent “hit piece” on my book, “Unleashing a Momster”, I would like to state the following: I OWN the words and experiences relayed in my book. Every experience in my life has made me the person I am today. I will not apologize to a so-called member of the media who is so eager to disparage me that he will scour one of the most ridiculous pieces of literature ever and cherry pick nuggets in an effort to prove his point. Yes, I wrote a book based on the entertainment industry, reality TV and child pageants. I was an entertainer for ten years, not a member of the media or professional writer who is expected to use a more broad vocabulary! I encourage the readers of your blog to purchase “Unleashing a Momster” on Amazon to read it for themselves and draw their own conclusions. Or, you can attend one of my upcoming campaign stops and I’ll autograph a hard copy. So the answer to your question, Pat, “Do you plan to continue your race in IA-03”, the answer is a resounding, “YES! OF COURSE!”
by Pat Rynard