In a world where the media is obsessed with youth culture, the trend of dressing up a young girl to appear as a little lady is rising. Combined with the media’s need to continually shock their audiences, child pageants are a part of this perfect storm.
Beauty pageants originated in the U.S. in 1921. An Atlantic City hotel owner had an idea that beauty pageants could boost tourism after Labor Day. The contest winner would be named Miss America. In 1961, the women’s pageant had become so popular that they created Little Miss America for younger women.
In 1996, child pageants came into mainstream consciousness following the suspicious death of JonBenet Ramsey. The six year-old pageant winner was found strangled to death in the basement of her own home.
The media coverage of JonBenet repeatedly focused on her young role in pageants. Although there was no proof that it played a part in her murder, it was a belief that was challenged by the media because of her pageant image. Her young face was greatly altered by cosmetics, her hair was curled and coifed, and her glittering dresses had a traditional style of femininity.
Her case was propelled into headlines all over the world. This was partly due to the moral dilemma of a six year-old girl who was made up to look older than her years. The ethics of the parents also came into question.
Although their popularity continues to soar, the stigma attached to child beauty pageant still exists. Here are 7 truths of child beauty pageants that are downright ugly.
7 Unregulated by Law
Many countries have expressed outrage at how exploitative child pageants have become. France became the first country to make them criminal. In 2013, they passed a law to make beauty pageants illegal for participants under the age of 16. The punishment for supporting minors in pageantry is $40,000. The intentions are justifiable, but there is the possibility that France’s uncompromising decision could create underground circuits.
France remains the only country in the world to restrict youngsters from beauty pageants. All other countries absolve pageants from any legal responsibility. These competitions do not have to adhere to child labor laws. Although participants can earn money, legally, they are not considered “working.” Pageants fall between the cracks because children could potentially “work” for hours on end, without any governance besides their parents.
Since individual contests have their own rules, it’s difficult to make decisions that will apply to all. As it stands, the criteria for every competition is governed by pageant directors.
It goes without saying that parents are always accountable for placing their children in beauty pageants, not the government. As it stands, the law trusts that parents will make decisions that are in the best interest of their child.
6 Billion Dollar Industry
There are 5,000 annual beauty pageants in the US. Each year, two million contestants register. Backed by major sponsors, the glitz pageants alone bring in 20 billion dollars a year. Money fuels the pageant machine.
Television cameras were never a part of children’s beauty pageants, that is, until the debut of TLC’s reality show Toddlers & Tiaras in 2009. Each episode followed three beauty pageant contestants, their families, and their fight for the crown.
Averaging 1.3 million viewers a week, the reality series added advertising dollars and all kinds of exposure to children’s pageants. Toddlers & Tiaras and its spin-off Here Comes Honey Boo Boo have helped to popularize these types of contests. These shows have also been a lightning rod for negative comments.
Amid controversy and viewer backlash, Toddlers & Tiaras was cancelled in the U.S. in 2013, but still airs in the United Kingdom. Here Comes Honey Boo Boo was also cancelled in 2013 after dwindling ratings. Despite their absence on the airwaves, child pageants continue to grow.
Universal Royalty is a lucrative pageant held in Austin, Texas. Contestants have an opportunity to win a cash jackpot of $10,000, but showing off your child’s beauty comes at a cost. About 300 families pay for their own transportation, accommodation, and the mandatory entrance fees. The amount incurred for a single event is extensive. Besides airfare, and a hotel rooms, the parents have to pay:
· $595 for Universal Royalty’s package
· $20 admission per person, including the participant
· $125 for a DVD of the event
· $50 to enter your child’s portfolio into the portfolio contest
· $50 for a “good luck” advertisement in the program
· $50 to enter the “cover model” poster contest
· $95 for any optional contests, which are crucial to win the top prize
· $150 for access to Universal Royalty’s hairstylists and makeup artists
· $20 for keepsakes from the event, including t-shirts, rings, and photos
The more you spend, the more likely you are to win, and many of these purchases are mandatory. A single event could easily cost a family $3,000 to $5,000.
After JonBenet Ramsey’s death, the number of pageant participants dropped. To salvage profits, pageant organizers raised registration fees from $50 to $200-$500. These fees continue to climb year to year.
5 The Sexualisation of Girls
We have pushed the child pageant envelope to absurd levels. The most grotesque aspect of the culture is when little girls are made up to look provocative. Not all pageants are inherently sexy, but certain types of pageants invite a glamourous, mature look to little girls.
The glitz pageants are “anything goes.” Prepubescent bodies wear hair extensions, heavy makeup, press-on nails, and high heeled shoes. Some parents wax their children’s body and facial hair. One mother spray tanned her 15-month-old baby. The enhancements are not only encouraged, they are necessary to win.
For example, judges will deduct points for contestants who don’t wear false teeth known as flippers. Children’s teeth are immature, and have gaps between them. Flippers completely cover baby teeth so contestants can hide jack-o-lantern smiles. The false teeth also give the appearance of a smile from an older person.
Glitz pageants create an atmosphere that is over-the-top. Little girls are engineered to emulate women. Lipstick and facial expressions are applied to accentuate full lips. Adding long eyelashes, flirtatious poses, and all of the other extras encourage little girls to be seductive.
When it comes to costumes, there have been several controversies showcased on Toddlers & Tiaras. The winner of crazy stage mom goes to Wendy Dickey. As a spoof of the movie Pretty Woman, Wendy dressed her three year-old daughter in a prostitute costume. Her daughter wore a white tank top with cut-outs, a blue mini skirt, and thigh-high black boots.
Then, there was the toddler dressed as a Playboy bunny. Father did not know best on that day, as he carried his daughter to the stage dressed as Hugh Hefner.
Stage mom Linda Jackson dressed her four year-old daughter with padded boobs and stuffed bottom to imitate Dolly Parton in a hip shaking dance routine. Jackson and her daughter have been banned from entering further pageants.
Sexualized dance routines are reminiscent of Olive Hoover, Abigail Breslin’s character in Little Miss Sunshine. To the horror of onlookers, she gyrates and thrusts her pelvis. Rick James’ song “Super Freak” is the musical accompaniment. A seven year-old who performs a mock striptease is intentionally amusing for a Hollywood film, but it is understandably controversial in real life.
There are “natural” pageants that prohibit the “glitz” style of spackled makeup and racy outfits. If all child beauty pageants made artificial enhancements a reason for elimination, perhaps negative public opinion would sway. Little girls should look cute, not sexy.
4 The Effects on Children’s Psyche
As a kid, do you remember trying on your mother’s high heeled shoes, or playing with her makeup? The feelings are reminiscent of Halloween because make believe is fun. Many little girls like to dress up as princesses, but psychologists say that pageant princesses are not pretending.
Instead, they are trying to resemble an adult woman. Playing with mommy’s makeup is one thing. Transforming your five year-old daughter to resemble a 20 year-old woman is something different.
The issue lies in pageants being a contest that is based on looks. Participants are judged on their physical attractiveness, their performance on stage, and demonstrated confidence. In short, contestants are required to look beautiful, and perform flawlessly.
Sadly, these competitions open the door to critical remarks, and sometimes ridicule. Self-esteem can be compromised by receiving regular criticism from judges. Child may grow up to believe that their parents’ affection is directly associated to how beautiful they look.
Proponents of beauty contestants say that pageants don’t deserve to be persecuted. They praise pageants for developing their children’s social skills and public speaking. In their words, pageants have prepared their children for life. Even moms and dads of kids with birth defects praise the experience. They claim that pageants helped their children to come out of their shells, and connect with others. In the midst of the fashionable crowd, their children did not feel different because they were part of the pack.
Parents who are for beauty pageants claim that their child has received discipline that allows them to always perform to the best of their ability, just like a kid who dances or play sports. They benefit from early confidence building through competitions. They make friends. Still, the positive aspects come with mixed messages.
Studies show that competing in beauty pageants can have adverse effects on self-esteem. Participants show an increase with body and weight issues. Contestants often suffer from anxiety related stress. Even years after competitions, young women struggle with the unattainable goal of perfection.
Beauty-driven pursuits train young girls to be hyper sensitive about their physical appearance. Later in life, if they develop acne on their skin, or require braces on their teeth, they may have to deal with feelings of inadequacy. With so much former emphasis on beauty, this programming could influence their self-worth later in life.
Among older age groups, eating disorders are common. Teens in competition have been known to starve themselves to limit their weight. Tight dresses do not leave room for error. This puts excess stress on girls to stay skinny.
As contestants age, their physique becomes their livelihood. Imperfect bodies may give rise to unemployment. For former pageant contestants, these issues appear to originate in their fault-finding surroundings of their youth. Of course, not all will become image obsessed, but some do.
For those who win many pageants, a girl may believe that her pageant status makes her superior to other girls. For those who lose many pageants, a girl is likely to doubt her abilities. A girl may even feel guilty for letting down her parents. When young women are sexualized, studies show that their development can be affected emotionally, cognitively, and sexually.
Pageants teach our kids that external beauty and shallow charm is an important path that leads to success. Whether or not girls participate in a pageant, it sends the wrong message. There are many different ways for girls and boys to gain poise and courage. The issue is less with pageants, and more with parents who place value on physical attractiveness over character. Parents have more influence to guide their children’s pride than any pageant.
3 Pageant Parents Live Vicariously Through Their Children
The families that are portrayed on Toddlers & Tiaras are extreme examples of the participants in pageant life. Television cameras intensify the need to be seen. In this atmosphere, behaviors can be exaggerated. Some people will do whatever it takes to win the elusive crown, or to get their 15 minutes of fame, even if it means going through their children. Toddlers & Tiaras is less about children, and more about parents fulfilling their own desires.
Stage moms and dads are bringing up their children in a big league, competitive culture. They promote their kids as if they were products.
When vying for a crown, and a large cash prize, stage moms and dads keep their kids competitive by making sure they are always ready to perform.
To prevent their daughters from messing up their hair and makeup, some parents will not allow naps. Other parents feed their kids large amounts of sugary candy and drinks to keep them energetic. June Thompson, mother of “Honey Boo Boo,” served Go Go Juice to her then 6 year-old daughter. The recipe consisted of Red Bull mixed with Mountain Dew. These stimulants are colorfully known around the circuit as “pageant crack.”
Some parents have a preoccupation that supersedes the interest of their child. At times, Toddlers & Tiaras could have been renamed Tots and Tears. Denying their young children naps during a grueling day often incited crying and tantrums. Parents are trying to fulfill their own aspirations of fame and fortune, despite the risk to their child. In their eyes, they are not exploiting their kids at all.
Everyone believes that their child deserves to win, and everyone wants to win the money. The prizes are a definite incentive to enter. Contestants might win cash, vacations, tiaras, or even small roles in movies. Unfortunately, the odds are that using their children for commercial gain will not pay off. Most moms and dads spend way more than they ever collect.
2 How Young is Too Young
What is the appropriate age to compete in pageants?As long as they are old enough to sit up by themselves, children are eligible to enter a beauty pageant. A child at this age doesn’t even realize what these contests mean. If your child can’t walk, can’t talk, then they have no will to take part. How can babies’ personalities be evaluated when they are not able to speak? The truth is that they have no choice.
During competitions, parents constantly strive to keep their kids active and energetic. In the long run, this can endanger the health of their kids. Because pageants are competitive, and taxing, moms and dads are exposing their kids to enormous pressure at such a young age.
Giving your children caffeinated beverages to keep them up puts their health at risk. Too much caffeine in your system can give you night mares, cause insomnia, strip the calcium from your bones and make you irritable. Not something you want to intentionally do to your child I'm sure, but these caffeine concoctions are going to hurt your child, not help them win a competition.
Children need to take naps and get sleep because during rest their body grows and gives their brain a rest to process information that helps them to learn and prepare for more lessons, but if you take that away, then your child may not be able to retain what they're supposed to be learning and have trouble focusing and differentiating the important for the not as important.
Some parents refuse their kids to take a much needed break. Despite the risk to their children, they will do whatever is necessary for emotional and economic gains, even if their children are still in diapers.
Regulation may be a reasonable improvement, as opposed to shutting down or banning competitions altogether. One approach to ensuring the welfare of the child is to institute a minimum age for contestants. France has determined that age to be 16.
1 Let Kids Be Kids
Preparing for a pageant is time consuming. Practice sessions can be long, sometimes taking hours. Hair, makeup, nails, and spray tans all need time to prepare. These hours get in the way of play, sleep, and school work. In some measure, this time consumes their childhoods.
Taking part in beauty pageants can have its benefits. Parents and children can use the preparation time to bond. If you aren't forcing your child into the pageants, and your daughter or son are just having some fun then that's okay. As long as you stop when it's no longer fun for your child you will secure the bond that you've made. In this respect, participation can be a valuable opportunity.
If you take these pageants too seriously and force your child to practice singing and dancing to improve their talent for the sole purpose of these contests, then I can't imagine this being fun for you child. And it will do nothing for the bond between you if your child feels that you aren't considering their feelings in this matter.
For some, beauty pageants are a hobby. For others, it becomes a lifestyle. Practice and commitment are necessary to sharpen any skill, but dedication can go to extremes. Children who are juggling any extra-curricular activities need balance. As long as everyone enjoys what they are doing, everyone has a choice to participate.
Most participants do not go in to a career in pageantry. Most don’t even become models or actors. Ultimately, the family resources are exhausted with the probability of no returns. Putting the focus back on education seems to be the smart option. Instead of spending thousands of dollars on beauty contests, families can invest that money into college funds.
Physical beauty is fleeting, but wisdom is forever.