The world of beauty queens and pageants was in the hot seat last
week, and not just because of the racist online comments hurled at Nina
Davuluri after she became the first woman of Indian descent to be named
In France, legislators moved to ban child beauty
pageants on the grounds that they promote the "hyper-sexualization" of
minors. A measure even proposes jail time and a fine for violators -
including parents and organizers - who sponsor or encourage "access to
these competitions" for anyone under age 16, the Associated Press
The French Senate approved the bill on Tuesday, but it must be passed by a lower house of parliament before becoming law.
According to The Guardian, the attention to the "Mini-Miss" beauty pageants was prompted by debates over a 2010 photo spread in French Vogue featuring a 10-year-old girl in heavy makeup, high-heeled shoes and tight clothes and pouting provocatively.
a ban wouldn't fly in the USA, says sociologist Hilary Levey Friedman, a
research associate at the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy at
the Harvard Kennedy School and author of the new book Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture.
and legally, our system defers to parents to make the right decision
for their child," she says. "We see the family as more of a private
Karen Kataline, a mental health professional near Denver
who participated in child beauty pageants in the 1960s, says she
understands the motivation to ban the competitions, but doesn't think
that's the answer. The problem "is not just the pageants, it's the
parents" who support and encourage the sexualization of their children,
"I'm not against children singing and dancing on
stage, but you want them to sing and dance and perform in
age-appropriate ways," she says. "Today, we've pushed the envelope to
"People need to be educated as to why
exposing and displaying a child in sexual ways beyond their years is
wrong," says Kataline, author of the memoir FATLASH! Food Police & the Fear of Thin - A Cautionary Tale.
proposed penalties of up to two years in prison and $40,000 in fines
"seem a bit extreme" but the concerns are certainly legitimate, says
Martina Cartwright, an adjunct faculty member at the University of
Arizona. Her research on child pageants was published last year in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
task force of the American Psychological Association noted that "girls
who are sexualized early will tend to gather their self-worth as an
adult based on their appearance," says Cartwright. And there's also the
issue of certain adults who "make the assumption that the girls have the
ability to make adult decisions just based on the way they look rather
than their actual age."
She doubts, however, that a ban will
adequately address the issue of girls and women "being judged solely on
appearance, and the idea that self-worth is only based on how they
As seen on the hit TLC reality show Toddlers & Tiaras, and its spin-off, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,
child beauty pageants put a premium on appearance. And in the case of
so-called "high-glitz" pageants it's an appearance that requires girls
to dress up and perform like pint-size adults, complete with fake hair,
spray tans, full makeup, ornate costumes and even artificial teeth
(known as flippers).
Glitz pageants are a multibillion-dollar business now, having exploded since Toddlers & Tiaras came
on in 2009, says Cartwright, a registered dietitian who started
researching pageants as a result of her work with young performers and
The average total cost of participating in a single competition, according to Cartwright's research: $3,000 to $5,000.
research included attending live tapings of the reality show and
traveling to other child pageants, where participation typically drops
off between ages 7 and 9. Tears and temper tantrums were common, she
says, with many parents denying young children naps or breaks during
grueling pageant schedules for fear that sleeping might mess up the
child's hair or makeup.
Cartwright also recounts parents giving
their kids caffeinated beverages and Pixy Stix candy, often referred to
as "pageant crack," to keep their energy levels high.
of television cameras and the desire to be noticed at the competitions
only heightens some parents' and contestants' over-the top behavior,
says Friedman, who has studied pageants for more than a decade.
seen terrible behavior on the part of people associated with child
beauty pageants, but it's (increased) when a TV crew is there," Friedman
says. Often the adults are "looking for 15 minutes of fame" for
themselves and the child, she says.
Cartwright has labeled this
drive by parents for social or financial gains earned by the child's
accomplishments - regardless of the risk involved for the child -
"princess by proxy."
Honey Boo Boo star Alana Thompson,
8, symbolizes the potential benefit. A reported 3.2 million viewers (a
record for the show) tuned in to watch its season finale on Sept. 11,
and more shows have been ordered. Thompson recently inspired a line of
merchandise, including posters, apparel and accessories.
Toddlers & Tiaras
alum Isabella Barrett, 7, is a reported millionaire with her own
fashion line and TV show in Germany. Another breakout "star" from the
show, Eden Wood, 8, had her own reality show (Eden's World) and was the subject of the recent tell-all book, Unleashing a Momster: A Peek Behind the Curtain at the Tragic Life of America's Most Successful Child Pageant Star, written by her former manager.
often sassy, over-the-top personalities that make for eye-catching TV
have influenced local pageants, says Cartwright. "Parents think that's
how their child should behave in order to win. What they see on TV is
what they want to create in their own reality."
beauty pageants have been around since 1880, the last time they were the
focus of such attention was following the death in 1996 of JonBenet
Ramsey, a 6-year-old beauty pageant veteran, says Friedman.
then, the world of child beauty pageants was still very much "a
subculture limited to geographic pockets," she says. In today's wired
world, however, anyone anywhere in the country inspired by watching the
shows can get on the Internet and find out where to buy the best dress,
get coaching on Skype and find a competition.
Fans of pageants
point to the poise, presence and confidence that participants (both
girls and boys) gain, as well as the parent-child bonding, says
Cartwright. For those who enjoy the dress-up factor for their daughters
but in a less overdone setting, many turn to so-called "natural"
pageants that restrict "the glitz, makeup and risqué dresses," she says.
parents see benefit in the pageants. Anna Berry of Littleton, Colo.,
told CNN.com that her daughter Ashley, 13, "was so shy she couldn't even
order for herself at a restaurant. After she started appearing in
'natural' pageants ... she blossomed."
Her daughter "has developed
skills and confidence that will benefit her for a lifetime ... just as
they did for me growing up in pageantry," said Berry.
Best, who runs The BEST Shining Stars Pageant in southern Indiana, told
the website: "A pageant (run) properly is no different than a young girl
competing in gymnastics, a school function or anything else that has a
score kept or judged upon. Teach these girls to be strong, confident
individuals and see how far they go in life."
Child pageants, like all competitive child activities, would benefit from regulations, says Friedman.
sure that pageant operators are legitimate businesses will help reduce
"the scam aspect" that parents often complain about when putting out
large sums of money for their child to participate, she says.
Regulations should also address issues of health and safety, she says.
"I've been to pageants where there's an outbreak of pinkeye because the same products were used on all the kids."
parents need to think about and talk about the impact these
competitions have not only on the participants, but the kids who watch
them on TV, says Cartwright.
"TV images have a huge impact on
little girls and the type of messages they internalize about what is
normal, how they should look and how they should behave."