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Debate: Child beauty pageants

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Are child beauty pageants tolerable, or should they be banned?

Background and context

Child beauty contests have become increasingly common and increasingly controversial in recent years. With entrants ranging from 3 to 18, some see the practice as a form of child abuse and child sexualization, while defenders see it as a means of teaching children important life skills such as determination and confidence.
The main question in this debate is whether they should be tolerated, or banned with age limits such as 16 being set for entry. Beauty pageants started in 1921 when the owner of an Atlantic City hotel struck upon the idea to help boost tourism. However, the idea had already circulated through "Most Beautiful Child" contests held in major cities across the country. The Little Miss America pageant began in the 1960s at Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. Originally, it was for teenagers from 13 to 17 years old, but by 1964 there were over 35,000 participants, which prompted an age division. The modern child beauty pageant emerged in the late 1960s, held in Miami, Florida. Since then, the industry has grown to include nearly 25,000 pageants per year in the US. It is an increasingly lucrative business, bringing in roughly 5 billion dollars a year. The murder of Jon Benet Ramsey in late 1996 turned the public spotlight onto child beauty pageants. Critics began to question the ethics of parents who would present their child in such a way. Dan Rather, for example, was noted for criticizing CBS for airing Ramsey’s tapes, calling them “kiddie porn.” Now, with child beauty pageants being introduced in other countries such as Australia, they are meeting greater global scrutiny, debate, and calls for bans.
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Child abuse: Do child beauty pageants amount to child abuse?

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Pro

  • Parents should be trusted on entering kids in child beauty pageants. The Minister for Children and Early Childhood Development, Wendy Lovell, said in regards to a planned beauty pageant in Australia: "we should trust parents to make the right decision for their children."[1]
  • Despite outliers, the average beauty pageant is tame. Melbourne mother of four Kristin Kyle, who is organising Australia's first beauty pageant in 2011: "We are asking people to educate themselves. Toddlers & Tiaras is a reality TV show. They have to make it dramatic so people will watch it. Our pageant is not going to be like that."[2]
  • Beauty pageants teach kids to be their very best. The promoters of Australia's first Universal Royalty Beauty Pagean defended the practice saying that it taught the lesson of "striving to be your very best."[3]
  • Parents not pageant system are usually at fault. "Child Beauty Pageants Pros and Cons." Squidoo: "Toddler beauty pageants pros and cons are both numerous. Child pageants are like just about everything else - there's good and bad. Some pageants are better than others, but most of the problems that occur are often the fault of the parents themselves, and not the pageant or pageant system."
  • The majority of pageants are fun for all. "Child Beauty Pageants Pros and Cons." Squidoo: "The majority of child pageants are well organized, fair, and fun. The best pageant directors go out of their way to ensure that every contestant has a positive, enjoyable experience."
  • Pageants foster positive camaraderie among contestants. "Pros Of Child Pageants." Squidoo: "The majority of child pageants and pageant parents work toward creating a sense of camaraderie among the contestants. The kids play together backstage, and the parents often help each other. Some contestants have made lifelong friends at pageants. When parents have the right attitude, the children will, too."
  • Pageants have lots of fun backstage activities for kids. "Pros Of Child Pageants." Squidoo: "Pageants can be a lot of fun for kids. Most pageants sell foods that kids love, including pizza, hot dogs, popcorn, candy, and other snacks. Some of the larger pageants also provide backstage activities for the kids, and a few even have costumed characters interact with the younger girls."
  • Beauty contests are little different than competitive sports. Ranking girls' beauty is little different from winners and losers at a sports competition. If child beauty contests is considered abusive, then so should little league football, swimming competitions, and gymnastics, among a long list of competitive activities that very young children are allowed to do without complaint.


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Con

  • Child beauty contests amount to child abuse. "Child beauty pageants. Um, no." Lovelyish. January 15th, 2011: "I'd also like to point out that a little girl screaming, begging her mother not to 'tear it off' as she's held down in a chair for a brow-waxing is not just insensitive on the mother's part - it's abusive. Putting your four year old child through hours of hair-dying, waxing, extreme dieting, tanning, and who knows what else is so she can look like Cindy Crawford is child neglect. Why this is even legal is beyond me. I don't see a difference between repeatedly ripping your kid's hair out in the name of beauty and repeatedly hitting your child in the name of authority."
  • Child beauty pageants are just creepy, insidious. Shadow Australia attorney-general Martin Pakula said: "There really is no place in Victoria for these pageants." As the father of a five-year-old girl, he found the pageants "creepy" and believes "they are not some innocent baby bonnet parade, they are something a bit more insidious."[4]
  • Beauty pageants often entail spray tanning 3 year olds.
  • Everyone loses but one in beauty pageants. There is only one overall winner in beauty pageants. All the rest lose. Most other sports allow for a broader sharing of victory and the sense of accomplishment that can come with that.


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Life lessons: Do child beauty contests teach good life lessons?

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Pro

  • Beauty pageants teach kids to be their very best. The promoters of Australia's first Universal Royalty Beauty Pagean defended the practice saying that it taught the lesson of "striving to be your very best."[5]
  • Beauty contests can boost a child's self-esteem. The most cited reason parents give for putting their children into beauty pageants is to boost their child’s self-esteem, as well as teach poise, public speaking skills, tact, and confidence.
"She learns skills such as going out in a crowd, not to be shy, and to be herself while people are watching and focusing on her," one mother noted.[6]
  • Child beauty pageants judge whole person. Some of the criteria considered in judging a pageant are writing skills, interviews, personality, looks, confidence and talent, depending on the specific competition.
  • Child beauty contests teaches there will always be somebody better. Another child beauty contest mother noted: "I want my child to be aware that there’s always going to be somebody better than her. It’s a hard thing to learn – it was for me – and I want her to start early."[7]
  • Beauty contests teach kids how to strive to move up. You see this a lot among people on the lower-income and education scales. They want their kids to learn skills that are needed to move up the social scale.
  • Pageants teach kids to follow rules and play fair. "Pros Of Child Pageants." Squidoo: "In these cases, child pageants can teach kids to be gracious winners and good losers. They'll learn the aspects of rules and fair play."


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Con

  • Beauty pageants foster destructive perfectionism, self-criticism. William Pinsof, a clinical psychologist and president of the Family Institute at Northwestern University: "Being a little Barbie doll says your body has to be a certain way and your hair has to be a certain way. In girls particularly, this can unleash a whole complex of destructive self-experiences that can lead to eating disorders and all kinds of body distortions in terms of body image."[8]
  • Pageants teach that self-worth is in physical beauty only. Melinda Tankard-Reist, one of the founders of Collective Shout: "Competing in these events very young children are taught very early that their only value comes from their appearance and the way they look. This in turn leads to emotional problems, eating disorders and a distorted sense of self worth and self esteem."[9]
  • Child beauty contests enlarge child egos to unhealthy levels. If you win a bunch of beauty contests at a young age, you might start to thinking you really are better than everyone else your age. This can be unhealthy.
  • Better alternatives to beauty pageants for building character. Kate Sullivan. "Should Child Beauty Pageants Be Banned Altogether?" Allure.com. May 26th, 2011: "Anything good that a pageant does for a child, something else does it better. As a former basketball player and competitive cheerleader (yes, it's a sport), I know that competition, and the wins and losses that went with it, educated me about the real world. But it's exactly because I did those self-esteem building activities that I know there are options for parents who want confident, happy kids. In a childhood that's full of opportunities for soccer games and spelling bees, why can't we just put away the self-tanner and baby high heels?"
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Sexualization: Do child beauty pageants over sexualize little girls?

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Pro

  • Beauty pageants aim for beauty, not sexy. Beauty pageants are not trying to sexualize children. They are judging children on their beauty and how beautifully they dress and are "made up". Some parents might aim for "sexy", but this does not mean this is a winning formula; it would usually be considered offensive if there was such an over the top attempt. In general, contestants are going for classy, sophisticated, cute, adorable, even if they're only 5 years old.
  • Pageants not to blame for interest of pedophiles. Swim meets and public beaches are not to blame for pedophiles going to these places to scope out young girls. Neither, therefore, are pageants to blame for pedophiles taking the opportunity to be disgusting human beings. It is the fault of pedophiles, not of beauty pageants.


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Con

  • Child beauty pageants sexualize children Parents can also contribute to the sexualization of their daughters in very direct and concrete ways - for example, by entering their 5-year-old daughter in a beauty pageant in which she and the other contestants engage in behaviors and practices that are socially associated with sexiness: wearing heavy makeup to emphasize full lips, long eyelashes, and flushed cheeks, high heels to emulate adult women, and revealing “evening gowns.”
  • Child beauty contests worsen pedophilia, sex abuse "Child beauty pageants. Um, no." Lovelyish. January 15th, 2011: "Another problem I have is that these kids are from the same parents who bitch and moan about pedophiles and perverted men watching their kids. Yes, these men are disgusting creatures and every parent has a right to not want them near their children. However, why are you vehemently boycotting pedophiles and other sick people all the while doing this to your kid. Yes, predators are fully responsible for their own actions; these mothers aren't telling them what to do. It just wouldn't be a bad idea if the parent would reevaluate their actions when they start wondering why their child is being stared at by an adult."


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Gender: Do beauty pageants violate gender boundaries?

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Pro

  • Plenty of other activities are exclusive to boys/girls. Some complain that beauty pageants are exclusive to women, but there are plenty of other sports that are exclusive to one sex or another, such as American football or female field hockey. None of this means that any discrimination is occurring. Rather, it just means that another alternative option exists among a myriad of other options for each sex. Sufficient options for extra curricular activities exist that neither complain that there is any kind of discrimination or unfairness going on.
  • Beauty pageants exist for boys. There are all kinds of beauty contests for boys as well. They are similar to girl beauty contests in many ways. And, there are other types of beauty-related contests for men, judging their handsomeness and bodies. So beauty contests are not exclusive to females.


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Con

  • Child beauty pageants are almost wholly gender-based. Leslie Cannold. "The ugly face of child beauty pageants." Sydney Morning Herald. May 21st, 2011: "Parents who propel their children into after-school study say they want the experience to teach their kids confidence and the value of practice. They also want their sons and daughters to learn how to follow a schedule, to develop the speed necessary to perform well on standardised tests and to become more disciplined and focused. This contrasts with the wish-list pageant mums have for their daughters which includes becoming comfortable on stage, learning poise, how to present themselves and to dress appropriately. The child beauty pageant issue must not become fodder for the seemingly endless mummy wars, or be used to satisfy the rapacious desire of evangelical Christians to have influence over other people's children. Instead, we need to support parents to have the same aspirations for their daughters' development and future success as they do their sons."


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Pro/con sources

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See also

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