Most young girls like to dress up and play princess, but some girls take it a step further and don sparkly gowns and heavy makeup to participate in child beauty pageants. In an age where retailers like Abercrombie and Fitch are pedaling push up bikini tops for pre-pubescent girls and shows like TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras are featured on TV, parents are divided on whether these pageants build children’s self-confidence or distort their self image.
Child beauty pageants began in 1961 as a gimmick to attract people to an amusement park in New Jersey. Approximately 250,000 children enter the more than five thousand beauty pageants annually held in this country. Partially due to the unfortunate death of contestant JonBenet Ramsey and the aforementioned show Toddlers and Tiaras, child beauty pageants have garnered national attention and have increased in popularity.
Many parents are of the opinion that beauty pageants have several benefits such as an increase in confidence, a tendency toward being extroverted, and the opportunity to be better public speakers. Contestant Allie Richardson, 7 had the following to say about competing in the pageants: “I like doing the pageants because they’re fun and I like making new friends. Sometimes I get to be in other pageants with my friends. And when my friends win, then I’m really happy for them.”
- On the flipside, there are parents who are of the opinion that participating in pageants is a lesson in excess because:
- It places too much emphasis on a child’s physical appearance.
- Pageants teach children that their worth comes from their appearance or the success in their performance, not in who they really are.
- Dresses, makeup, photos, spray tans, and fake hair are expensive, and some parents claim they are completely necessary to win.
According to an American Psychological Association study (2007), emphasizing appearance early in life, such as through child beauty pageants, has been linked to low self-esteem, eating disorders, and depression.
Adding fuel to the fire is the perception that pageant parents are going overboard. Says one Toddlers and Tiara’s viewer, parents are living vicariously through their children. “The parents are exploiting their own children for the sake of increasing the parent’s self-esteem. Shame on them.”
What do you think? Are child beauty pageants a tool to help young children become stronger as individuals, or is it a venue that encourages children to dress and act inappropriately?