"Every girl dreams of being a princess," a quote very true for someone like me who idolised the Disney princesses in my childhood. After watching films like Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast, I longed to be able to be like those princesses who seemed to have the perfect lives. Can you blame me? With their faultless looks, beautiful singing voices and their painless ability to find their Prince Charming, it was safe to say that I was a girl who dreamed of being a princess. However, I believe the idea of little girls being a princess and feeling 'beautiful' has become distorted and seems to condone what I see as one of the worst forms of child exploitation- child beauty pageants.
Yes readers, child beauty pageants. Like adult beauty pageants such as Miss World, children as young as four months old are seen parading around on a stage in full make-up, fake tan, heels and dresses whilst judges score them in different rounds. Now everyone, please don't think of me as some sort of evil, old Victorian woman; I can understand when little girls want to put on a bit of their mother's make up in an attempt to look like her. I remember putting on some lipstick when I was very young, which unfortunately resulted in me looking like The Joker because I had simply no clue what I was doing. What I cannot condone though, is when there is an expectation of children to act older than their years and wear make-up because if they don't, they won't be 'beautiful.' When I watched some clips from the beauty pageant programme 'Toddlers and Tiara's,' I was horrified to see all of the girls caked in make-up from head to toe, partly because in that environment, it would have been considered strange if they weren't. Whilst I grew up accepting the fact that I would be pale child unless I went on holiday to somewhere hot, these girls are growing up in a society where being pale is not an option and in order to be saved from this supposed 'sin' to beauty, they should have a fake tan. Now I know the whole 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder' quote is rather cliché, but in the case of beauty pageants, it has been completely trampled upon because beauty pageants suggest that there are but a few ways for a little girl to be beautiful. A dress. Make-up. Dyed hair.
What I may perceive as beautiful may be completely different to what another person might think, but nevertheless, child beauty pageants are giving girls a distorted vision of beauty whereby they think that to be 'perfect' is being beautiful. Everyone in their lives will experience a quest for perfection. For me, it has been all throughout my school life that I have put an enormous amount of pressure on myself to be academically perfect when the truth is, no one can be. However, what makes me different to the girls in child beauty pageants is that the pressure I put on myself has and always will come from JUST ME. Through getting scored and then rewarded for their 'beauty,' children in pageants are being psychologically reinforced by ADULTS into repeating their actions so that they can be rewarded again and have these feelings of achievement. As these children grow up, they will therefore feel the need to be perfect in what they do so that they can be happy, when the truth is that happiness is not derived from being perfect.
I am a great believer that all children deserve to experience a legitimate childhood and beauty pageants are one of the factors that jeopardise this. Why, you may ask? Look at the pictures below.
The picture on the right shows actress Julia Roberts in the film Pretty Woman, playing a character who is a prostitute. The picture on the left shows a three year old girl in a beauty pageant dressed up as Roberts' prostitute character. Now I know that the child wouldn't have understood who exactly she was portraying, however, what we can say is that beauty pageants like this manipulate innocent children because they promote sexual promiscuity through children who are too young to know what 'sexual promiscuity' even means. Childhood shouldn't be about trying to be older than you are purely for a bit of attention; it should be about having fun and being.... A CHILD.
Once our childhood has gone and we have grown up, we can never get it back and I think this is partly why so many parents enter their children into pageants. They want to have another shot at childhood and so feel that they can do this through their children. Of course, I feel sorry for them (in some sense), but no parent should force their child to do something just to resolve their own childhood conflicts and unmet needs. In addition, the level of pressure that parents (particularly mothers) put on their daughters in these pageants is ridiculous. When watching another clip from 'Toddlers and Tiara's,' a mother told her young daughter that 'you [her daughter] need to bring it.' Maybe if the mother had said 'try your best,' then I wouldn't be bothered, but the phrase 'bring it' again, implies that the child has to be perfect and if she doesn't do well in the pageant, she will disappoint her mother.
No, pageants are not all doom and gloom and yes, I suppose there are some advantages to them. An increase in self confidence, the ability to articulate yourself to an adult etc. Nevertheless, the more children participate in pageants can often result in these qualities becoming escalated, meaning that self confidence can turn to arrogance and likewise, children articulating themselves can end up becoming outspoken and spoilt. I am not by any means saying that pageants exploit all children, but I believe there needs to be some reigns put on the mad world of child pageants so that children can take part in them, but avoid enduring any psychological or emotional problems later on in their lives.