Sexualizing your child is not playing dress-up – Parents and child beauty pageants
Almost two years ago I’ve posted a blog entry named “Toddlers and children beauty pageants – Risk factors for severe psychological turmoils” in order to simply express my opinion as a psychologist regarding the phenomenon of child beauty pageants.
I must say I was and still am impressed by your reactions, comments, private messages, re-posts, citations or inclusions of my perspectives in your own articles, blog posts or other types of written materials. I would also like to congratulate highschool and college students that chose to refer to this subject in their projects. I was more than happy to answer your questions when possible and thank you for the feedback you provided!
This time I would like to add to that previous blog post aspects about the parents of the children that participate in beauty pageants.
Let’s start this time by considering that each of these parents means well and their solely intention is to spend quality time with their child(ren) and perhaps get back some of the money they’ve invested in beauty tricks, coaching lessons and similars.
Alright then. You are in the game and start playing it. Then why not try and avoid some of the traps such context so easilly sets in front of you, starting with the core: keep your beautiful child a child. Don’t add 20 years to your child’s face, body or most importantly, attitude, that can’t be washed off or simply removed after the pageant.
A child is a child you might say and if the lense through which a child is being looked at is not broken, then there’s nothing bad in what is just a huge dress-up game. Unfortunately, this is just a cognitive distortion called rationalization, through which you find a reason that somehow justifies an action, thought or behavior that is actually „not right”. And this beautiful lie gets you just as much as it gets the child.
Think of this: Judges in these pageants – somehow – judge and score your child’s physical features and talents looking for things that stand out but are still related to the child’s age. So it’s pretty clear that they want to see children in front of them and that that’s not a „Children impersonating 20 to 30 year olds Pageant”.
In order to be more specific, here are the things that spoil the fun of these contests and make you enter a nearly grotesque scenario.
The talent section
If your child is going to sing, don’t choose something like Madonna’s „Like a virgin”, Shania’s „Any man of mine” or even Aqua’s „Barbie girl”. Even if the melody is easy to remember, everybody knows the song and responds to it, the lyrics are not fit for your 6 year old! The target audience of most artists are not children, but young adults and adults and you should consider this when you put the conic bra on your little girl thinking „oh this is so cute and funny”. And don’t pat yourself on the back for the original idea you had either – „nobody thought of this!” -. There’s a reason for that.
Carefully choose the songs for your child’s repertoire and ask their educator or teacher for recommendations if you feel you’re stuck or that the subject is not up your alley.
And don’t use the „but my child likes this song” excuse, they shouldn’t have had access to it in the first place.
If your child is going to dance, go for a basic ballet routine or any routine that appeals to the younger audience, that’s fun and does not involve shaking any body parts – even if your child hasn’t grown those parts yet -, excessive bending and touching one’s body. Also be careful with the clothing that might convey a very-very wrong message. Shorts that reveal too much, bras used as tops, eventually combined with knee-high boots, lace corsets and other similar items should never be part of your child’s wardrobe.
Outfit of choice
If your little girl wants to be dressed as a doctor or a cop during the outfit of choice section, then remember the following: police-women don’t wear short pants adorned with fluffy hand-cuffs, tiny tops and high-heel boots! That’s not the outfit of a real cop, that’s not an original/artistc version of it, that’s a costume for sexual role-play! And it will be seen as such. If your child already dislikes being in pageants, this is the thing that’s gonna make her feel really-really exposed and embarrassed, especially with all the grins, laughters and „what was your mommy thinking” looks that are going to be present everywhere. If the little girl trusts the parent as making the best choices for her, then she will also believe that the outfit is good to wear and will try to make it feel as her own and she will act the part. This will later be translated in the way she is going to see herself as a woman and her acceptance regarding the way people treat her.
Same goes for boys, that can succesfully keep their shirts on during the dance routine and still score great in beauty and talent.
So if these things seem harmless at first, when you take a moment and consider it all in the perspective of child development, conveyed messages and emotional states, perhaps it would be better to change some of the „glitz habits”.
And also keep in mind that there are other ways to spend time with your child that are more educational, constructive and less risky and harmful.
Here are some alternatives according to the resources you see in your child and that you want him or her to cultivate and optimize:
I have a beautiful child
Teach your child to be confident without relying solely on their looks. You can have fun playing dress-up trying to impersonate characters from fairytales for example, take pictures and keep them as memories of the quality time you’ve spent together. Keep the pictures in your family and do not post them on the internet, nor send them to advertising agencies randomly hoping for your child to get an endorsement deal.
My child can sing or act
Great! Encourage him or her to take singing or acting lessons and let your child be a part in the school plays and other fun events that aim at bringing children with the same interests together in order to build something beautiful as a team. The child will therefore learn how to be a team-player, how to stay focused, the meaning of mutual help, hierarchy, task division, what’s it like to have a role that others respect and acknowledge and many more.
My child is full of energy and great at sports
See the type of sport your child enjoys the most and take him to lessons and trainings. This will allow the child to channel most of his/her energy into the sport and you are going to have a more obedient – and perhaps sleepier – child at home. (In contrast, if your child lacks energy, energy drinks or coffee are not the solution! Try respecting a daily schedule for your child’s activities and it will perhaps work better.).
Whatever the resources of our child are, make sure you spend a lot of time with him/her and that you learn more and more about each other everyday, thus building a strong and healthy parent-child relantionship and placing the right bricks in the development of their personality.
Also, keep in mind that glitzless children are often more happy, authentic and socially adapted!