Children’s Beauty Pageants: The Ugly Truth

This is my column that appeared in the Courier Mail on Wednesday the 30th March. It had an overwhelming response. Please feel free to add your comments and pass on the message.

THE US children’s beauty contest, the Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant, is coming to Melbourne in July and, according to reports, some mothers are very keen to involve their kids.

The fee of about $300 to enter covers a compulsory beauty competition, modelling and make-up workshops.
Optional extras include spray tans and dressing like a celebrity for $50.
Entrants are told the “positive, fun-filled atmosphere” encourages “self-confidence, education” and “striving to be your best”.
What’s missing from the marketing material are the warnings and condemnation of child psychologists, who claim that these type of competitions not only transform children into “paedophilic fantasies”, as Dr Ruth Schmidt Neven states, but teach kids the wrong lessons about their bodies, appearance and how they’re valued.

Based on the popular American show, Tiaras and Toddlers in which very young children are waxed, spray-tanned, styled in a range of costumes and paraded before an adult audience Australians can take home prizes from a laptop computer to a sparkly crown and teddy bear.

When asked why she would consider entering her children, mother of four Vicki D’Atri said it was “confidence building” and that it was akin to sport. “You can get into it in a relaxed way or go full throttle, depends how you want it.”

Claiming, let alone believing, an arena where very young children are primped like mini-adults and pitted against each other in a bid to decide who’s the prettiest is good for confidence or self-esteem, is to dwell in a fool’s paradise.

Worse, it’s denying the fact that the person to derive the most satisfaction out of the entire debacle is the parent.

Attiring their children like adults and rewarding them, or not, for how they appear, is to indulge in the worst kind of parental narcissism.

Living vicariously through their kids and treating them like fashion accessories or trophies is not a healthy way to act for anyone.

For years, experts have stated how damaging it can be to introduce children at such an early age to this kind of subjective and superficial evaluation.

Instead of listening, these “stage mums” and it is, I am sad to say, mostly mothers ignore advice and enter their children, spouting the positive and deluded mantra that it’s somehow good for the child’s wellbeing.

It’s ironic that something termed “beauty” does little more than reveal the ugly side of parenting.

When little beauty pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey was found dead in her basement on Christmas Day in 1996, Richard Goldstein wrote in US magazine Village Voice “that only in a nation of promiscuous puritans could it be a good move to equip a six-year-old with bedroom eyes”.

Only now, we’re set to do it here in Australia as well.

Melbourne organisers are bringing out five-year-old American pageant “star” Eden Wood for local contestants and parents to ogle over and for, presumably, aspirational purposes, and Sydney is also holding a pageant in April.

The organisers state on their website that these pageants are for children who love being the centre of attention or who lack self-confidence.

Funny, how a pageant can resolve diametrically opposed behaviours. I’m surprised they didn’t throw in a line about world peace as well.

The Academy Award-winning movie Little Miss Sunshine satirises the whole mindset behind the kiddie pageant industry when Abigail Breslin’s character, Olive, travels across country to enter a contest and performs a striptease to Super Freak. Sadly, the irony is lost on too many people.

Already, the Facebook page “Australians Against Child Beauty Pageants” has been set up and is well supported.

Comments range from describing these pageants as child abuse to claiming they simply groom children for the cosmetic industry.

Smearing make-up on and donning adult clothes has always been a favourite childhood pastime. What has changed is that this natural developmental and imaginative milestone has been high-jacked and moved from the private sphere into public ones so others can profit.

What they’re cashing in on is parental insecurities, egos, competitiveness and desire to have their child publicly endorsed as prettier (better than) the next.

In doing so, they are potentially preparing kids for a lifetime of issues based on an early lesson that how you look and what you wear is more important than who you are and what you do.

Child beauty pageants are a toxic cocktail of the worst aspects of competitive parenting and adults living through children.

Call it what you want, claim what you will, they’re not for the kids.

These pageants are nothing but an excuse for pathetic parents to parade their children for social currency and to raise their own sad profiles.

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