Photo: Study of a Fully Dressed Little Girl, Kate Greenaway (1897)
Make-up, hair extensions, teased hairstyles, clouds of hairspray, flippers (fake teeth), sophisticated costumes, screaming crowds (mostly mothers), weird postures, twitched face expressions, tiaras, trophies, money and more or less talent are the ingredients for the usual child beauty pageants, along with exercised smiles and hysterical crying and outbursts.
The children that compete in these beauty contests are aged 2/3 to 10 (sometimes even younger than 2 years old) and usually have one only goal: get the money and get the tiara (tiara and/or trophy and/or ribbon). Of course, these little beauties do not enter the contests at their own request, but their mothers are the ones to fill in the applications on time, pay the participation fee, create or buy the outfit, establish the type of performance for the „talent” section (usually some song about the greatest love in one’s life and/or a terrible heartbreak; dancing is also a very popular talent to be displayed), create and exercise the hairstyle and make-up, keep a strict rehearsal schedule, hire trainers if the mom herself cannot coach the whole thing, fill in the gas tank and travel hundreds of miles with their children just to spend a weekend on an emotional roller coaster that for most of the mother-daughter teams has its last stop on „low”. So why do these mothers (and rarely fathers) put their young girls (and sometimes boys) through this experience? Well, the official answers are „For them to have fun and experience dress-up in a more complex environment.”, „Because she likes it.”, „Because she is beautiful.” Etc. Off the record answers include the „For the money” and „Because she (read „I”) has to be number one” versions. Anyway, for myself, the most feared answer to that question would be „Because I used to participate in such contests myself”, and no matter how that sentenced ends („… and I always won”, „…and I’ve never won, but I know she can do it!”), I just know things are going downhill.
What can a child learn by being a professional/serial beauty pageant contestant? Well, encouraging the sense of competition is okay, having a hobby to be dedicated to is okay, spending time with mom is great, but when you become a winning machine, a 1st place chaser or a tiara collector, serious psychological problems are just around the corner. These contests promote physical beauty as the main value, complimented of course by the „special talent” and „warm hearts”. A child, especially a female that is going to pay so much attention to her looks and that knows she is being assessed for it, is prone to develop eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia. Also, paranoid features can occur as a response to the „no other girl is your friend here” speech, regarding the relationships between the participants (both mothers and daughters), usually all smiles and hugs at the surface but opposition can be sensed at a deeper level. And this brings another problem to my mind, dissimulation as a form of interaction, which can be used outside contests too and become a habit. Also, seeing screaming crowds, rivers of tears at all times and having to put on an act and playing a role could lead to learning hysteric behaviors. Anxiety is no stranger for these girls either. If at first sight, they seem to learn how to be prepared for a stressful situation, think of this: what if the girl does not really want to participate and does this only to please her mother? What if she can’t actually dance or sing, but she has to do that anyway? And what if she feels embarrassed? What if she would rather like to spend time with friends in her home town and not in some cheap hotel miles away from her house? Then I believe yes, anxiety and frustration are near these children at all times. These and many other psychological problems can emerge from having to be something that you are not at a very early age. And inner problems are not the only ones. Displaying such a mature look (these girls are five or six years old, yet their faces look like those of at least 16 years old) may attract unwanted public, such as pedophiles. Paying the fee for your child’s picture to be posted on a website with heavy traffic is again, in my opinion, not the best choice to be made. Unfortunately, there have been cases of young pageant participants that have been victims in murder cases, so things are not as simple as one might think.
Mothers of these children are usually trying to live their own dreams through their young daughters. I am talking about dreams that they either could not accomplish or accomplished in such a way that they’ve become a way of life. Playing dress-up with your daughter can be great, but why transform it into a full-time job? I also need to mention that these contests usually take place on weekends, so the children that also go to school have no free time to invest into building healthy relationships, behaviors, attitudes or follow their own dreams.
So many things can be discussed about child beauty pageants, ranging from ethics, parenthood, mental health, development, competition or interpersonal relationships, but I will end the article like this: See your children and invest in their potential, but give them the opportunity to make their own choices and fulfill their own dreams.
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Article Updates: New Featured Image Added March 17th, 2018.