When  children’s beauty pageants started they were frowned upon by the public and still are today. The idea of awarding a three year old with a crown that suggests she is the best might sound fun and could be regarded as  a bonding activity for mothers and daughters. The problem is that these pageants are most often not a choice or of interest to the child herself but she is forced into these activities. Dressing up seductively, being judged and noted by men seems a bit inappropriate when you think of an 2 or 3 years old  innocent little girl. Yes little girls play dress up but not usually for adult’s pleasure. The girls are dressed more and more provocatively every year. Beauty pageants are for girls  so at a very young age  little girls are taught that their beauty has to be noted while boys do not have to worry about stuff like this. The notion of competition is often brought up by pageantry supporters. Yes, a little competition is good but at 3 years old, is competition like this  really that necessary? Healthy competition is great for everyone but this kind of  competition puts anxiety and unnecessary pressure on these toddlers participating. Even though these competitions can help boost children’s confidence, the impacts of these competitions are more negative than positive. The negative impacts on the child and the family members overall outweigh the wins.

                  Pageantry life is very absorbing for the parents and the toddler involved. It is basically a non stop life for the parents who are always preparing something for the pageants, finding informations on the venues, calculating travel distances, checking hotel and flight prices etc. For a parent with multiple children , this attention to one child, is bound to take away from the attention given to the other children. This can cause a rift between siblings as they feel as one of them is favored more than they are. The time invested in one child can be strenuous to the relationship between the mother and the other kids as well. Marriages suffer too as husbands spend less time with their wives, and tension starts to grow especially if their finances are not good. The emotional scarring that is created in pageantry children last till adulthood for most of them.  

                    Children who participate in pageantry do not only get too much attention, they tend to get all of it even at home.  Every child deserves love, attention and affection but all the attention a pageant child gets can also create narcissistic children and later on narcissistic adults. They are constantly receiving compliments on how they look, audiences give them great deal of attention too. In  2005,  a study in the Journal of Treatment and Prevention found that there is ” a significant association between childhood beauty-pageant participation and increased body dissatisfaction”. This is because they are brought up putting a great amount of attention on how they look which later leads to issues of body dissatisfaction when they grow up . Children in pageants get used to being the center of attention from parents, to judges, to the public and even to cameras for some pageants. They grow up being told how “perfect” they are, how they are the “best” they start to believe that they are superior to others and should be privileged. In some places, pageant winners get priority seatings, special recognitions and this goes to continue teaching the child that they deserve to be privileged and they grow up expecting that to continue. In Origins of Narcissism, Eddie Brummelman says  “Thus, children seem to acquire narcissism, in part, by internalizing parents’ inflated views of them (e.g., “I am superior to others” and “I am entitled to privileges”).” Pageant parents create this inflated idea for their children and they grow up expecting the adult world to be the same as their “privileged” childhood . This can lead to real mental health troubles as any changes in their bodies can create anxiety in these little girls.

            Reports show that most child pageant girls grow up to be adults with body image issues. Their mothers impose regiments, diets and  much more on them, no matter how young they are. At two  to three years old they are put on diets, are taught to watch what they eat already. No two year old should be worried about her weight or stepping on a scale, she is just a child. This notion of watching their eating behaviors puts them at risk for eating disorders in adulthood. Children learn everything when they are little and grow up doing those things as adults. Basically, a child’s entire life can be shaped during their childhood through their experiences, their surrounding environments, interactions with family and parents and more. Psychologist Sigmund Freud’s Psychoanalysis says “A person’s development is determined by the events that occurred in their childhood.” The feeling of always worrying about physical attributes can put these girls at risk for mental health issues like bulimia and anorexia for example when they become adults. Mishandi Sarhan mentions this in her article ,Beauty pageants lower women’s self-worth, self-esteem, when she says  “She has struggled with both anorexia and bulimia at one point in her pageant career, and that was after the 500-calorie diet she was put on when she was 9.”  Can you imagine being nine years old and being on a 500 calorie diet? These little girls grow up counting calories, measuring cups and portions and this can easily become an anorexic adult later on in life. This mental health concerns are for many adults in America a very real  issue. If  putting a child through  competitions like pageantry will put them at risk for these health issues, you would expect every parent to shy away from these competitions but it is not the case. Collett Smart, Adolescent and child psychotherapist who works with young girls with low self-esteem and the associated eating disorders, believes that government intervention in pageantry is warranted at this point. It is a scary thought to realize that some adult is out there can be preying on pictures of little innocent girls and these pageants make things easier for them. All they have to do is show up, take pictures and you have an innocent child’s images in the wrong hands.  These little girls are prepped to be “perfect” for the judges which instills the drive to be “perfect” all the time.

             Pageantry enforces a notion that the winner is the “perfect” one and that is unhealthy for the winning child but also for the losing children in this case.  Professor Marc H. Hollender in his article Perfectionism, explains that “  Perfectionism most commonly develops in an insecure child who needs approval, acceptance and affection from parents who are difficult to please.”  So although these kids appear to be smiling, waving, “being cute” deep inside this kind of environment makes them constantly insecure inside. They work so hard to please every adult around especially their parents .  Martina Cartwright , Ph. D,Explains this better  “In my experience as a dietitian for high-powered entertainment groups, I found that many of the young women with eating disorders were trained at an early age to value physical perfection, thinness, athletic prowess and attractiveness. ” This means these children are almost always worried about if they are “good enough” for their parents, for the judges, for the audience, for everyone. Clearly, beauty pageants is  impacting participants’ mental health and for the most part not leaving good after effects.

                 Between school , rehearsals and events it can become difficult for children to differentiate between real life and show life. Real life as we know a child should have and what they are doing when they perform can become almost the same if the child participates regularly or even often. Doctor Phil McGraw, perhaps the most well-known mental health professional on television today told pageant moms in 2003 that it was crucial to explain the difference between reality and fantasy life to their children. It becomes rather scary and even alarming when a child cannot differentiate between their real life and how they are “supposed” to look. Children in pageants are usually taught to “beware” of anyone else, not trust anyone. This can create and instill a spirit of paranoia in a child especially if they cannot differentiate between real life and show life. The environment of pageantry usually is a very stressful one, full of tension between overly involved  mothers .

                Mothers  pressure their children into these events without thinking usually of the well being of their children emotionally . This can create a tensed relationship between the mother and the pageant child herself. They do not have a real relationship with their mothers since every time  they are with their mother it is all about the pageant usually. Weekends are when the pageants often happen so kids go from school to pageantry on weekends ;they never have time to be a child. Lucia Grosaru in the article Toddlers and Child beauty pageants highlights this “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.”  At this very young age, these little girls are stripped of having their very own dreams. They have no say so whatsoever in if they want to participate or not, they just have to.  Because of this, many consider this aspect of pageantry as child exploitation.

                  Pageantry is  regarded by some as  child’s exploitation because these children have no say so in it. They are 2 to 3 years old when they start  usually and have no choice which can be considered forced labour for some. It is regarded as a source of income but it is more of an extreme expense overturn.  Lindsey Lieberman in her article Protecting Pageant Princesses: A Call for Statutory Regulation of Child Beauty Pageants  says “ Eden has won between $25,000 and $30,000 in prizes, but has yet to receive any money because of the high costs of reinvestment in the pageant circuit.” The expenses for these events are huge and many times bigger than the benefits at the end.  For example entry fees for a big pageant can be about $400,  some dresses can run up to  $4,000 and the costumes range  around $300 to $500. Some mothers take it a step further by getting their daughters coaching lessons and on average an hour of coaching runs about $50. All this investment usually does not  pay off at the end even if the child wins. Child beauty pageant is also considered child exploitation because it exposes children to predators, as this is considered also some sort of pornography to pedophiles .

              Child beauty pageants can be regarded as children exploitation as it is an event that gives pedophiles access to children pornography easily. Ann Wolbert Burgess , RN defines child pornography in her article Child Abuse Aspects of Child Pornography , “Child pornography is defined as photographs, films, videotapes, magazines, and books thai depict children of either gender in sexually explicit acts.” In these pageants the participants are constantly photographed, they are taught to pose in seductive poses for the judges, who by the way are adults. The attires themselves are very suggestive and inappropriate for children 2-12 years old to be wearing. Christine Tamer in her article Toddlers, Tiaras and Pedophilia ?”The borderline Child Pornography “ Embraced by the American Public describes this very well “ Wearing tiny,tight hot shorts and cut- off baring her midriff , Candi (short for Candace) is coached to “shake that booty” and “work it.” The children in beauty pageants today  are oversexualiized. Their attires are more provocative, they now wear fake teeth for those who do not have teeth yet, fake nails, fake eyelashes. All this makes them into small adults that are expected to seduce real adults to get a good note. These littles are not only sexualised, they are completely oversexualized and this is inappropriate. Melissa Henson in her article Toddlers and Tiaras’ and sexualizing 3-year-olds,  asks “What have we come to when toddlers, not yet able to read, let alone make decisions for themselves, are getting schooled in dressing and acting sexy for adults?” It’s a constant pressure just to win but it also a huge rejection feeling for those who do not win.

                    It is obviously very fun to win at anything in life but losing hurts. For children it might even hurt more. We focus on the winning kids very often and tend to forget or do not talk about the ones that lose at the end. If we think of the ones that lose we cannot fail to acknowledge that rejection in the children  can lead to emotional damage as well. Rejection for anyone can be harsh but when it comes to competitions it can sting more. Since the stakes are higher, the possibility of embarrassment very wide too, rejection from pageants can lead to depression . The constant worry of never being enough as adults can stem from their years of childhood beauty pageants. For those who participate year after year and never win this can be crushing for their self esteem making it easy for them to become depressed. Morghan Bahl , in his article Bahl: Beauty pageants discourage self-worth states   Depression may come when they just don’t feel good enough, beautiful enough, thin enough, etc.” The feeling of rejection and feeling like they are not “perfect” easily puts them at the risk of being depressive. Martina Cartwright, Ph. D,in her article, Child Beauty Pageants: What Are We Teaching Our Girls?  

said “Children who grow up in a competitive environment like pageants tend to grow up with psychological disorders because of the constant pressure put on them.” The pressure is crushing for children mentally and emotionally but since they smile and play “cute” people believe they are happy and enjoying themselves which is a wrong assumptions.

                   Most pageantry lovers argue that beauty pageants are not “just” about beauty, it also helps boost children confidence. Child beauty pageants as its name  indicates is about the looks of the participants. Sociologist Hilary Friedman confirms this in her article The Evolution of American-Style Child Beauty Pageants when she says  ” These competitive festivals soon developed into more systematic baby competitions — baby parades and better baby contests — which rewarded children for their looks and their costumes.” Other than looks, costumes, makeup and hair, the judges do not consider nor include talent, skills nor intelligence level when judging the participants. This proves that the whole activity is about outside looks, and it teaches little girls an unrealistic idea  of what they should look like. Spray tans, all that makeup, the glitter everywhere, the huge hair, the nails and the heels are all part of a costume these little girls have to wear for show. No little girl actually wants to wear tons of makeup, heavy hair, heels and be spray tanned in real life.

                    Child beauty pageants should be banned altogether as do more harm than good to the participants and their families. It exposes innocent girls , sometimes as young as 2 years old to pedophiles as this can be considered as a form of child pornography. Child pronography inlcudes taking pictures, videos of children in oversexualized costumes for adults pleasure. Child beauty pageants are in this way considered child pornography in some countries like France for example who has banned it. The tension , fear, anxiety and pressure from the competition on anyone can take a huge emotional toll. Imagine what this kind of pressure  can do to a 3 year old little gir.  Reports have shown that his pressure can lead to body image issues such as , bulimia, anorexia , depression, body distortion issues. Depression as a result of feeling rejected is another risk for child beauty pageant participants. It costs sometimes more than it brings in, and it tears apart families because of the time invested in the events. For some children this kind of competition can help boost confidence but for many this competitions hurt them emotionally in their childhood and continue to haunt them later into adulthood. When pageantry was introduced to America in the 1800’s  it was rejected and frowned upon. It might be time to ban it completely because reports continue to prove that these competitions are more detrimental than beneficial for the children and even after they grow up.

Works Cited

  1. Tamer Christine. Toddlers, Tiaras and Pedophilia ?”The borderline Child Pornography “ Embraced by   the American Public , HEIN Online. (2011-2012) 13 Tex. Rev. Ent. & Sports L. 85

  2. Ann Wolbert Burgess, RN. Child Abuse Aspects of Child Pornography,  Psychiatric Annals, April 1987 – Volume 17 · Issue 4: 248-253 

3. Hilary Levey Friedman . The Evolution of American-Style Child Beauty Pageants, Huffpost, May 10th 2011.

 4. Martina M. Cartwright Ph.D., R.D.Child Beauty Pageants: What Are We Teaching Our Girls? Food For Thought Psychology Today , Aug 12, 2011 https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/food-thought/201108/child-beauty-pageants-what-are-we-teaching-our-girls

5. Morgan Bahl. Bahl: Beauty pagents discourage self-worth, Iowa State Daily, May 8,       2011

6. Melissa Henson. Toddlers and Tiaras’ and sexualizing 3-year-olds, CNN, September 13, 2011

 7.    Mishandi Sarhan. Beauty pageants lower women’s self-worth, self-esteem ,Dixie State University’s   Student News Source, April 16th, 2013.