Since the release of TLC’s TV show “Toddlers and Tiaras” the debate over banning child beauty pageants has grown tremendously. Researchers and numerous writers are looking into if beauty pageants are based solely on looks and exactly how letting children participate can affect the children. While some say that children are being sexually exploited, others are arguing that children are gaining self-esteem and confidence. They are also looking into how the parents play a role in the process of it. Even though they are completely opposite view points, all sides are agreeing that the children are indeed being affected somehow by this organized competition and the parents are a big part of this.
Researchers claim beauty pageants advertise an emphasis on looks. In a recent article in the Junior Scholastic, a researcher named Martina Cartwright tells JS, “Many of these kids grow up with a never-ending drive for physical perfection” (Anastasia). Her research on child pageants was published in a medical journal and in it JS relays that she found that, “this can lead to eating disorders and poor self-esteem” (Anastasia). Billy Reed, a Kentucky-based newspaper columnist, wrote a viewpoint essay on why child beauty pageants should be eliminated. In it he states, “The children who participate in beauty pageants are often hurt by the experience, suffering damage to their self-esteem and later developing eating disorders, like anorexia, due to skewed values about their bodies” (Reed). In many of the high glitz pageants, children are seen wearing heavy make-up, spray tans, fake eyelashes, hair extensions, and fake teeth to close up the gaps from losing baby teeth, with mature clothing.
Melissa Henson, a byline to the CNN Wire, writes an article about the sexual exploitation of toddlers in beauty pageants and explains, “But whether you think child beauty pageants are just a chance for little girls to play dress-up, or a training ground for superficial, self-centered princesses in the making, everyone should agree that sexualizing a 3-year-old little girl is wrong” (Henson). She writes about how a three year old is dressed as Julia Roberts character in the movie “Pretty Woman”, when Roberts was playing the part of a prostitute, for a routine in a beauty pageant she was competing in. In another article by Michelle Healy published in USA today, Cartwright tells them that, “girls who are sexualized early will tend to gather their self-worth as an adult based on their appearance” (Healy). While most would believe this would make a negative impact on children, there are some that believe that it’s not sexual exploitation of children, but this is more of a self-esteem booster.
Though striving for beauty is said to make a negative impact on the children, there are some that say it could dramatically improve the quality of the child’s self-image. Thus, seeming as if it is giving them more confidence and is believed to be a benefit to the child as an adult. According to the article in Junior Scholastic, Tami Soudbakhsh, the director of the Little Miss and Mr. Pageants in Las Vegas and a pageant supporter, says, “The self-confidence it gives kids is amazing” and, “when they do interviews [as adults] for jobs and colleges, they really have an advantage” (Anastasia). In article from USA Today, an interview with a pageant mother explains that when her daughter started the pageants she was, “so shy she wouldn’t order food for herself at a restaurant,” but now that she has been in pageants, “she has developed self-confidence, self-esteem, come out of her shell, and made great new friendships” (Healy).
From the Junior Scholastic article they say, “Even at glitzier competitions, appearance is just one component” and Soudbakhsh tells them “It’s also about elegance, poise, uniqueness, having fun, eye contact, and remembering to smile” (Anastasia). Even though the people are saying that all pageants do is sexually exploit the children, some pageant parents believe that the children are gaining a positive self-awareness and that is their main reasoning for allowing their children to participate. A common topic among articles and research is how these parents play a role. Most articles focused on the belief that parents were responsible for the sexual exploitation of their children. In the viewpoint essay written by Reed, he writes briefly about the story of the six year old child beauty pageant veteran, JonBenet Ramsey, who was murdered. When speaking of Ramsey’s mother, he says, “Some parents are so warped, so starved for attention or some kind of self-validation, that they will shamelessly exploit their children’s physical beauty without regard for the possible consequences” (Reed). He also says that, “JonBenet was a doll—a living, breathing Barbie—with which her parents were playing” (Reed).
Reed makes a direct hit to Ramsey’s mother when he says, “herself a former beauty queen, was reliving her unfulfilled fantasies through her daughter” (Reed). Henson also touches on the topic about parents in her article by saying, “parents across the country should renew their commitment to teach their children that they are valued for who they are, not for how sexy they look” (Henson). These articles state one common fact among them, that the parents are negatively influencing their children by putting them into beauty pageants and that they are teaching them to think that the only thing that matters is how they look. Contrary to these beliefs though, there are some researchers who believe that parents are not fully to blame for the negative effects that occur. James R. Kincaid, and Aerol Arnold Professor of English at the University of Southern California, wrote a viewpoint essay based on the culture’s obsession with the sexual exploitation of children. In it he does not put the blame on the parents but says, “Beauty-pageant parents are often unfairly charged with being the problem when, in fact, all parents subject their children to behaviors similar to the activities of child beauty pageants” (Kincaid).
In other articles they talk about parents putting their children in pageants because of the positive rewards that may come from it. In the article in Junior Scholastic, they mention that, “the competitions also encourage children to help out in their communities” and, “the competitions also have financial rewards … that money is now in her college fund” (Anastasia). He is pointing out that society focuses on the parents of beauty pageant contestants for the exploitation of children, when in reality, he is saying that parents exploit their children in many different ways. But no matter who is to blame, it seems to be a reoccurring thought among many researchers that the parents are an important factor on how the children are being affected by participating in beauty pageants. Beauty pageants have been around since 1880, but just recently since the boom of TLC’s “Toddlers and Tiaras”, the media has made several attempts to find out the positive and negatives of this newly advertised competitive sport.
According to the article in Junior Scholastic, “an estimated 3 million children, mostly girls, ages six months to 16 years, are entered into pageants” (Anastasia). Most researchers are explaining the negative exploitation of children and how their parents are to blame, but if looked further into the issue, there are positive results being found. Either way, it is found across the board that parents play a major role in experiences their children take from competing in beauty pageants, both negative and positive.
Anastasia, Laura. “Toss the Tiara? Should the U.S. ban child beauty pageants?” Junior Scholastic/Current Events 25 Nov. 2013: 15+. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. Healy, Michelle. “Could child pageants be banned in the USA?” USA Today 4 Oct. 2013: 04A. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. Henson, Melissa. “‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ and sexualizing 3-year-olds.” CNN Wire 12 Sept. 2011. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. Kincaid, James R. “Child Beauty Pageants Reflect the Culture’s Sexualization of Children.” Beauty Pageants. Ed. Noël Merino. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2010. At Issue. Rpt. from “Little Miss Sunshine: America’s Obsession with JonBenet Ramsey.” Slate. 2006. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 20 Mar. 2014. Reed, Billy. “Child Beauty Pageants Should Be Eliminated.” Beauty Pageants. Ed. Noël Merino. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2010. At Issue. Rpt. from “Time to End Child Beauty Pageants.” Billy Reed Says. 2006. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 20 Mar. 2014.