The real cost of child beauty pageants: child exploitation
Child beauty pageants emerged in the early twentieth century, gained popularity and public attention during JonBenét Ramsey‘s time in the spotlight in the 1990s, and reentered today’s pop cultured with the infamous TLC reality program “Toddlers & Tiaras“. Child beauty pageants can have an array of harmful effects on a child’s psychological well being. These contests teach unrealistic standards of beauty and may result in the development of body dysmorphic disorder, eating disorders, and other psychological issues at younger and younger ages.
What do child beauty pageants teach children about self beauty? This image gives a clear idea of what these contests teach young girls: natural physical appearance is not good enough. This young girl’s natural beauty is heavily augmented by false teeth, hair extensions, a spray tan, layers of makeup, and fake eyelashes to meet the rigorous standards of child beauty pageants.
Are these young participants aware that they are being judged solely on their physical appearance? Do these young girls know that their talent, knowledge, and personal achievements mean very little to the judges of child beauty pageants?
Children are coerced by parents and coaches to wear clothing that even adults wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing in public. In addition to adult-themed clothing, children are asked to pose in provocatively and role play adult sexual behaviors in their staged routines. Are these child beauty pageants or junior stripteases?
Are parents living vicariously through their children?
Teaching your prepubescent daughter how to pad her breasts to appear larger is all in a day’s work for a pageant mom. Parents and coaches of beauty pageants contestants concentrate their efforts in making their young children appear older and more mature. What do parents seek to gain from these teachings?
A 2011 episode of TLC’s “Toddlers & Tiaras” featured a child dressed as Julia Roberts’s “Pretty Woman” character Vivian Ward. The mother, Wendy Dickey, created a nearly exact replica of the striptease outfit worn by the so-called “Hooker with a Heart of Gold” in the popular 1990 romantic comedy. The outfit was complete with a crop top and shiny, black thigh-high boots. Although the getup caused quite the media stir, parent Wendy Dickey maintains that the costume and performance were all in jest. But at whose expense?
While child beauty pageants may appear superficial at first glance, the effects on participating children run far beneath the surface. Young girls are very susceptible to emotional and psychological risks of these public displays. If these beauty contests have positive effects on the malleable psyches of young girls, I have yet to see them.