Where Are You Going Dressed Like That?
Makeup, manicuring, eye brow waxing and plucking, tanning, high heels, teeth correction and highlighting– we are talking about getting ready for a wedding, right? No, we are talking about preparing a child for a beauty pageant. You heard it right. They put false teeth in if a child loses a baby tooth before a competition; they highlight their hair and wax their eyebrows. Worse yet, they defend it.
Yet, in 2009, the reality show Toddlers and Tiaras began to bring children's beauty pageants to TV. Since the commencement of the show some are engrossed by it and the rest are appalled. Supporters contend that pageants are normal competition and it was just time for a TV show.
After questioned about why a little child would be dressed in Madonna's cone shaped bra and rosary the director of a pageantry company, Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant, Annette Hill responded, "It was great… It made for good TV."
It Made for Good TV?
Those who approve of the beauty pageants argue that there is no harm done. They go as far to justify their behavior by accusing those who claim sexualization are perverse. It's ludicrous. Only they leave out the true meaning of the word sexualization.
The American Psychological Association formed a task force on the sexualization of girls in response to legitimate public concern about younger and younger children being sexualized. These concerns have been raised not only from parents, but also from journalists, child advocacy organizations and psychologists (see reference below). They state, "Sexualization occurs when sexuality is inappropriately imposed on a person."
And consider this:
- Parents may contribute to sexualization in a number of ways. For example, parents may convey the message that maintaining an attractive physical appearance is the most important goal for girls.
In the words of one of the mothers whose daughter is in the pageant, "I definitely think pageants are addictive… the better you look, the better the title you get." This statement conveys the message that physical appearance is the most important thing for a child in a pageant.
This is the same mother who "saw fit" to put her 9-year-old daughter in a Daisy Duke outfit for the competition complete with a half shirt and all. Children do not choose to dress in Daisy Dukes or Madonna's immaculate conception outfit and dance around. This is sexuality imposed on a child. But, supporters claim that this is not sexualization; it's "a little risqué" and a legitimate competition. There is something profoundly wrong with this thought process.
The APA goes on to report:
- In self-objectification, girls internalize an observer’s perspective on their physical selves and learn to treat themselves as objects to be looked at and evaluated for their appearance.
This definition hits the nail on the head. There is something wrong with treating girls as objects to be evaluated. How are her hair, makeup and clothing? How well does she perform on stage? It's preposterous for anyone to support this.
This is not coming from an "armchair psychologist" but the APA itself. The real research shows that girls who see their bodies or looks as a source of reward develop low self-esteem, eating disorders and feelings of depression. Why shouldn't parents be outraged by this? Are the psychologists, advocates and professors wrong, too, or is it just parents? It is hard enough for teenage girls to deal with beauty pressures yet these girls are starting as toddlers and children.
Money for Vulnerability
If you research the meaning of exploitation you will find that it means that one person benefits from another's vulnerability. These parents are making money from the innocence and "beauty" of their children, meanwhile skirting around child labor law issues.
There is no comparing a normal kid competition to this. Let's face it; winning a trophy at a soccer tournament is a far cry from a $20,000 award for a beauty competition. There would be a lot more at stake for a large monetary award, wouldn't there be? This is why we see parents go to painstaking ends to make sure their child wins. Also, the soccer tournament would be based upon physical ability not physical appearance.
So, the argument that children's beauty contests are a healthy competition is an excuse to perpetuate exploitation, and professionals agree that it is totally unacceptable.
It’s a Bigger Issue
This is a bigger societal issue. It is well documented that girls have less confidence in their abilities and higher vulnerability to depression than boys. One of the reasons for this is physical appearance. Society perpetuates the problem by valuing appearance more than a girl's accomplishments and innate abilities. Unfortunately, it is happening in our society at a younger and younger age.
It's time to start valuing and protecting our little girls as competent for who they are and not what they look like. It's time to stop justifying that putting young children in beauty pageants is harmless and that those who oppose it are in the wrong. When are we going to realize that girls deserve praise and recognition for reasons other than being pretty? There should be a national outcry to protect our children.
You can counter that everything is a choice. So, just don't watch the show. But that will not stop it from being aired, will it? It will not stop the moral decay as people become desensitized to the sexualization of girls either. The two video clips in this article are more than enough to show me that this TV show is despicable. It is not about healthy competition, but how "good" a child looks to win money.
Let Me Be a Child
"Let me run … let me laugh … let me play.
And most of all let me be a child!"
The final word is, let the children play. Let them discover their natural talents and abilities on their own. Discovery happens through play, not by grilling girls in rehearsals and parading them around like Barbie dolls for ego and monetary satisfaction.
Image Credit: Toddler Tiara image/photobucket
American Psychology Association's Summary on the Sexualization of Girls.
Gurian, Anita. How to Raise Girls with Self Esteem, The Child Study Center.
About the Author: Laurie Patsalides, MS.Ed. is an educator and parent dedicated to protecting the rights of children.