The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Why Child Beauty Pageants are Terrible for Young Girls and Their Self-Esteem

With the advent of the first Little Miss America child beauty pageant in the 1960’s and the very recent proliferation of shows like Toddlers and Tiaras, Honey Boo Boo, and King of the Crown that center on the life of child beauty pageant contestants, lots of controversy has ensued from the public. From raging middle-aged mom viewers concerned with the well-being of pageant contestant children to passionate,psychotic pageant moms and previous contestants who support participation, there has been lively discourse regarding whether or not beauty pageants are beneficial or detrimental to young girls in relation to self-confidence and mental health.

There have been some extremely negative responses from the public in blogs and in the media. Blogger Alicia Fannin, for example, is extremely opposed to young girls participating in competitions because they define girls solely in terms of their appearance and lower their self-esteem as a result. “By their very nature, beauty pageants for kids are built around judging young girls by their looks. And let´s not forget that some of the kids in these pageants are very young indeed – maybe only toddlers. What is this teaching them? That external looks and being pretty are what counts, not what´s inside”, says Alicia. (for more see http://parenting.allwomenstalk.com/reasons-not-to-enter-your-child-in-beauty-pageants-for-kids)

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I’m here to say that Alicia is totally right in her justification. Girls as young as TODDLERS start competing in pageants and are taught that appearance is EVERYTHING. Through my experience watching Toddlers and Tiaras, it seems that a typical competition day in the life of a beauty pageant girl involves getting spray tanned, having a makeup artist apply excessive layers of makeup on their face (to the point you can’t even recognize the child), adding on extensions or false hair and styling it, choosing the most elaborate, overpriced dress for a 5-year old possible, and putting on a fake smile (see picture of “flippers” below or false teeth). All of this culminates into the child anticlimactically strutting onto stage to be judged by a crowd of strangers. Evidently, the beauty pageants themselves intrinsically instill in young girls the idea that appearance, something that’s virtually uncontrollable, is a defining factor in their lives. This can obviously lead to self-esteem issues by constantly being compared to other young girls. (see https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/food-thought/201108/child-beauty-pageants-what-are-we-teaching-our-girls)

960  Picture of “flippers”- what a beautiful, natural smile for a 4 year-old!!

Previous child competitor Kerry Randall argues that “all girls could benefit from entering a beauty pageant” and that ,although they place a huge importance on looks, they’re more beneficial than detrimental. To Randall, pageants helped boost her confidence at a young age by giving her the opportunity to showcase her personality. To supporters of the pageants like Randall, I have to say that I think there’s something beneficial in building self confidence at an early age, but I don’t think entering young girls in beauty pageants is the best way to do that. By telling girls they have to wear excessive amounts of make-up, flippers , elaborate thousand dollar dresses, and fake tans, they’re instilling in young girls the idea that they have to alter their appearance to a very specific standard of “beautiful”. Do they not see the detriment inherent in pageants’ emphasis on looks? Let’s look at the scoring guidelines, shall we? Typically, 20 points are awarded based on how photogenic they are, 30 points are awarded based on beauty, 30 points on personality, and 20 points on originality and overall impression. Therefore, a little over 50% of scoring is based on appearance alone. So although people like Randall can argue that “personality and stage presence” are a factor in scoring, if we look at the general guidelines, it’s clear that an enormously large percentage of the points are awarded to girls based solely on their appearance in comparison to personality or creativity.

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How is self confidence supposed to be boosted when you’re taught at such an early age that appearance is so integral to your success and identity, especially when some children spend up to 7 hours a day on pageant preparation? Although I can see how some girls do walk away from competitions feeling proud and self-confident, there are always girls who walk away feeling inferior and are likely to become self-conscious and develop body image issues that could ultimately lead to anorexia or bulimia. Look at the case of 3 year-old Ava in season 6 episode 3 of Toddlers and Tiaras. How do you think she felt about herself when she was sure she was going to win Grand Supreme and didn’t even get called up on stage once during crowning? Probably not that “self-confident”! Clearly, material possessions and physical beauty is not enough to make young girls feel secure or confident. Not only are children being taught that their self-worth is dependent on their appearance but also that these young girls are being inexplicitly guided to feel that their worthiness is tied to what others think of them.

So ultimately, my only response is that, yea, beauty pageants could potentially boost the self-confidence of some girls, but the majority of girls who walk out without the Grand Supreme title could experience the negative psychological effects of pageants and that is, by far, a more pressing matter. So, although people like Kerry Randall can say that pageants are “beneficial”, I think there’s something to say for the people who didn’t have such positive experiences, and I think something needs to be done to completely alter the inherent emphasis on appearance in scoring to show young girls that their self-worth isn’t tied to their looks. Hmm.. maybe if they really want to boost girls self-confidence they would lower the points awarded based on appearance and maybe place emphasis on something more important like, say, personality or talent (groundbreaking, I know)! So for parents who want to place their kids in an activity I have to say- Warning: DON’T ENTER YOUR CHILDREN IN BEAUTY PAGEANTS!!

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