by Kayla McDowell
The stage is filled with the blistering heat of over-radiating lights while the fake smiles of over-primped girls spread violently across their pretty little faces. In the audience parents are silently swearing, praying that their little “diva” is crowned. The atmosphere is filled with hairspray and hatred. Behind the false eyelashes of every single little girl, is a childhood long lost to the extreme world of beauty pageants.“…And the 2012 Ultimate Grand Supreme is…” Pause.What comes to mind when hearing the phrase “child beauty pageants”? Confidence? Poise? Internal Beauty? That idea just made me throw up a little in my mouth. When I think of the phrase I find the words, exploitation, abuse, and evil more acceptable. Unfortunately, child beauty pageants have become a way for the mothers to hide their own insecurities by flaunting how “perfect” their children are. How disgusting. The question that these parents purposely ignore is, how will these pageants affect their daughters in the future? In the end, child beauty pageants force children to grow up much too soon, and they release them into a world they are too young to understand. Based on that revelation, pageants for young girls are a big finger-swishing no-no, not only because they abuse and sexually exploit children, but also because they can cause participants to engage in a life of self-loathing and mental instability. In the long run, more harm than the supposed “good” comes out of little girls participating in pageants.
What is beauty? Based on the Merriam Webster dictionary, beauty is “the quality or aggregate of qualities in a person or thing that gives pleasure to the senses or pleasurably exalts the mind or spirit”. So, let us be honest here. Orange, adult-faced little girls with pricey makeup precisely–or not so precisely–splattered on their faces are not appealing, nor will they ever be appealing. Have you ever seen the show Toddlers and Tiaras? If you haven’t, it’s fine; you aren’t missing out on anything special. Basically the parents who put their girls in these pageants are turning their girls into the offspring of an Oompa Loompa and a low class Barbie doll…stripper edition. Doesn’t that just sound adorable? In all seriousness though, the girls in the show look a lot happier when they are not overly dolled up. At those times, they are just kids; that is how it should be.
Unfortunately, child beauty pageants aren’t looking for the “natural look”. The average young beauty queen’s hair is abundant in height and so hard from hairspray that even an F5 tornado couldn’t pull one strand out of place. Their pretty young faces get hidden behind loads of foundation, eyeshadow, blush, lipstick, and the ever-important false eyelashes. If the girl is going through the “all I want for Christmas is my two front teeth” phase, that can easily be solved with the child version of dentures called “flippers”. To top off the look, the girl is forced to get a spray tan or a loss will be in her future. The only way to avoid this inevitability is a girl being of the African American race. So I guess, in that case, she’s lucky if she’s black. Well, in a way. Once the makeover is complete, the child looks nothing like how she looked before the process started. Why is it so important for a young girl to be transformed into someone who is completely different? The funny thing is, it’s impossible to win without wearing all the makeup. It is as if the child’s natural beauty isn’t good enough, and that is saddening.
These makeovers easily cross the line to becoming abusive. In an episode of Toddlers and Tiaras, a little girl broke down into tears when she had to get her eyebrows waxed. As an explanation for the girl’s outbursts the mother stated “she had a bad experience…the wax was way too hot, and it actually ripped off her skin” (“Child Abuse?“). The mother acted as if the experience wasn’t a big deal. Throughout the scene, the child shakes and screams as the beautician artfully tears the paper off of her premature face. If I were to see something like that, you bet your lucky dollar I would not hesitate to call Child Services immediately. Now, we can’t forget the spray tanning which turns the natural, peachy children into the perfect shade of Cheeto Puff orange. The mother of a two-year-old daughter, Payton, said that “spray tanning is a must” and that “she [Payton] has probably been spray tanned over fifty times now…she loves it” (“Toddlers & Tiaras–Auto”). Ironically, unless those were tears of overwhelming joy, Payton seemed to thoroughly hate the process. Former pageant princess Brooke Breedwell stated that pageants were a symbol of her mother’s ambition, and that this ambition started to become abusive. She shared that, “I ended up having a very tense relationship with her because she was always nitpicking at me, pushing me to be perfect” (Hollandsworth). So, not only are there multiple cases of physical abuse, but mental abuse has been shown as well. It’s hard to think that a young girl trusts her mother only to have mommy make her do things that only hurt and make her upset.
The last thing I want to see is a five-year-old going on stage with a sad excuse for an outfit shaking what her mama gave her. Remember when I said the girls were made to look like the offspring of a stripper-edition Barbie? Yeah, I wasn’t kidding. That just screams “wrong” on so many levels. From watching many shows about child pageants, I have found that the talent portion of the competition shows a multitude of little girls in half tops and booty shorts swirling their hips around like strippers without poles–or with poles, depending on the props. There is no way that doing that is cute. In fact, a 2007 report made by the American Psychological Association stated that parents who put their daughters in pageants contribute “in very direct and concrete ways” to the sexualization of their daughters (Hollandsworth). These recurring pageant acts are highly inappropriate and shine a light on girls that turns out to be quite sexual without them even realizing it. The pageant celebrity Eden Wood performed a dance in which she took off a vest she was wearing, swung it around her head, threw it at the crowd, and proceeded to slap her behind. Um, what? As she was dancing to “Squirrels in my Pants”, I couldn’t help but think that something was growing in the pants of the creepy guy in the back (“Toddlers and Tiaras– Princess”). Sorry, too much? So are the dances the little girls are forced to do. Please, do not say that is in any way okay. It’s not, and if you think that it is, please help society by checking yourself into a mental institution…or jail. These children are becoming sexually exploited no matter how much the parents don’t want admit it. Nicole Hunter, who used to be in pageants as a child, explained that dressing and acting like a woman at a young age compelled her to prematurely confront her sexuality, which lowered her self-esteem (Lieberman 741). Pedophiles exist, and they like little girls when they are just playing on their swing set. Imagine how much more they would like them when they are flaunting around in sequence bras. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before. In 1996 six-year-old pageant queen, JonBenét Ramsey, was raped and strangled (Davidson). It was, and still is, a tragedy that people cannot wrap their heads around. We keep letting parents exploit their children, risking a chance for a Ramsey case recurrence, and it has got to stop. For goodness’ sake, let these kids just be kids. “The child pageant craft focuses on ideals on perfection and beauty, with an accompanying emphasis on sexuality” (Lieberman 743). Yes, in our society sex sells, but that argument should be irrelevant when talking about your little girl.
This twisted lifestyle, can easily cause young girls to grow up to hate themselves. As children it is drilled into their heads that they are only as good as how pretty they are, but what happens if they don’t think they are pretty? Syd Brown, a child psychologist stated that, “What they are learning, basically, is that they have one characteristic which is of total primary importance, and that is their body and their attractiveness” (Schultz). There is a major threat that these little girls will grow up into very confused women. Mary E. Doren, Ph. D, stated that, “these pageant girls are taught from a very early age that what is most critically important in life is their physical appearance” (Hollandsworth). Daisy Mae, a current pageant girl, even said so herself that, “facial beauty is the most important thing in life” (“Toddlers & Tiaras: The Best Quotes”). Ah, the twisted life-lessons of a misguided child queen. Brooke Breedwell stated that even after pageants, she’s still “got this anxiety about feeling like I have to be perfect” (Hollandsworth). The moment in which they believe that they are not pretty enough, they can easily spiral into depression. Depression hurts, and I don’t care how much Cymbalta says they can help. The American Psychological Association Task force found that there is a strong connection between young girls who encounter a premature exposure to physical appearances and eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression (Lieberman 754). Trying to stay the perfect beauty queen can erupt into bulimia, anorexia, and/or body dysmorphic disorder (“Definition”). Nicole Hunter even said that her participation in pageants as a child led her to struggle with anorexia (Lieberman 741). Mary E. Doren stated that, “they [pageants] are hyper-vigilant about diet and posture, and so the message these little girls take away is that natural beauty isn’t enough–that their self-esteem and sense of self-worth only comes from being the most attractive girl in the room” (Hollandsworth). In the pageant world, the most beautiful girl with the cutest body wins the money. Come on, let’s not be stupid. Nothing legitimately feels right about allowing these child pageants to go on, especially when they can harm the child’s future.
As always there are mothers who claim that, “oh, my daughter just loves pageants, and it’s just for fun.” Now, pageants could once have been a fun extracurricular activity for young girls, but what they have turned into now has taken out the fun. There wouldn’t be crying or destructive jealousy. Many people have personally seen, through media and other outlets, multitudes of screaming and crying children participating in these beauty pageants. Tell me, where is the “fun” in that? Why is it not uncommon that parents yell at their daughters just because they messed up on a routine or accidentally forgot to smile? It is because in reality, the pageants aren’t just for fun. They are more of a way for parents to show off how their children are better than the others. Leaders of the pageant world state that, “the majority of child pageants are well organized, fair, and fun. The best pageant directors go out of their way to ensure that every contestant has a positive, enjoyable experience” (“Debate”). Some pageants are even said to have fun foods and games backstage. Oh my goodness, it sounds just like Chuck E. Cheese! When asked about the sexual dancing of child pageants, pageant mom Mickie Wood further claimed the “fun” argument by saying, “but what does that have to do? That’s having fun” (“Toddlers & Tiaras Moms”). Mother Susanna Barrett added that, “if people are looking at a child in a sexy way, then there’s something wrong with them” (“Toddlers & Tiaras Moms”). According to these mothers, the pageant life is full of fun, games, and friendship among other girls. Yet, there is still harsh animosity between each contestant. How wonderfully ironic.
A friend of mine argued that pageants teach little girls how to be themselves in the midst of major conformity. She goes on to talk about how each girl isn’t just judged on beauty, but how her personality shows on stage. The contestants are expected to be unique, fun, and energetic. Supposedly, pageants teach the girls that they can be loved for who they are. Unfortunately, this is just not true. The whole pageant system is a symbol of conformity. Every single little girl is expected to look a certain way, and even act a certain way or she won’t win a single dime. They can be themselves as long as their “selves” can win them a cheaply made, bedazzled crown. If anything, pageants teach girls how to become cookie-cutter, booty-shaking machines. They aren’t being loved for who they are if they can’t even go onstage without tons of makeup. It just doesn’t add up.
Yes, I will agree that pageants teach about poise and discipline, but at what cost? When I was ten years old, my mother put me in a pageant. Now, it wasn’t a beauty pageant, but it did share some of the same aspects. I wasn’t under-dressed nor did I wear any makeup, but I did have to compete against others to show the judges how I was better. It wasn’t fun, and everything was hectic. Mothers began to dislike other mothers, and children did the same. Everyone became jealous of everyone, and no real relationships could be built because of that. I did in fact learn how to curtsey, walk straight, and smile until my cheeks fell off, but I honestly will never use that in life. What I got most out of the pageant was how to be fake. I faked my way to the top. When I won the crown along with the $1000 prize, I felt like I was better than everyone else. No child should ever belittle another, and that is just what pageants do. In the end, poise just doesn’t matter.
Resume. As the Ultimate Grand Supreme is being crowned, you are either jumping up and down with joy because your daughter won, or quietly plotting the death of the little girl that is under the beautiful crown. Either way, you can sense the flow of tears in the room. Little girls’ dreams have been crushed, again. At the end of the day, parents are complaining how their child isn’t beautiful enough, and unfortunately, the child overhears. Is this want we really want for our young girls? Beauty pageants harm little girls and can lead to sexual exploitation and mental insecurities. So, baby, these pageants have got to go. Period.
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“Toddlers and Tiaras Princess EDEN WOOD’s New Dance Routine!” YouTube. YouTube, 15 Sept. 2011. Web. 1 Nov. 2012. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P04AJWJ5gkE>.