Childhood: The Age of Innocence
Little is known about the ugliness that surrounds the children competing in beauty pageants. Beauty pageants rob the childhood of the young girls competing in them. Childhood is a span of a few years that is a time when children are most innocent and blissfully unaware of the world around them. The innocence and simplicity of a child is what childhood is all about. The issue of toddler pageants needs to be addressed because not only are these pageants affecting our young girls, they’re trying to mold them at a young age when they’re most innocent. The purpose behind this blog is to bring to light how beauty pageants, play a part in the destruction of a childhood.
In an article by Henry Giroux, childhood innocence, is described as Thomas Cook pointed out, "something of a privilege, a bourgeois privilege.” Cook is right; it’s a privilege that should be allowed to be enjoyed. Dr. Daniel Thomas Cook attained his Ph D in sociology and does research solely on the youth and childhood and commercial life from a cultural-interpretive perspective. By placing little girls in pageants, parents aren’t even giving their girls a chance to experience childhood. Childhood is about being a kid. It’s about the simple stuff. When you grow up too fast you lose the time to be free of all worldly concerns. When parents spend a kid’s childhood priming them for pageants they take the kids right to a childhood away-something the kids can never get back.
How to be a Winner in the Pageant Realm
Let’s start with the basics. Pageants require an extensive amount of time for preparation. After reading multiple articles on pageant contestants and watching a variety of shows meant to highlight these contestants it’s apparent that time is of the essence. Many parents who enter their little girls, are seeking a win. Gowns and stage outfits need to be altered to fit the little girl. Dancing and singing in the pageants usually are what encompasses the talent section. Parents invest a hefty chunk of change for lessons. Lessons are at least 2-3 times a week if not more. Time is also spent perfecting routines which could mean practicing for hours. Practicing and perfecting routines is just one aspect that goes into a pageant.
Nicole Pesce, a writer for the New York Daily News, wrote about Little Miss Perfect, a show on the Women’s Entertainment channel. This show followed Madison Bowles, a nine year old pageant contestant competing against her best friend for the Little Miss Perfect crown. Bowles mom says , “It’s in the details; the judges are looking for the total package nice hair, nice makeup, and a nice dress.” Getting a spray tan, applying makeup, clipping in hair extensions and getting the nails done also help create this total package.
The Deal Behind Pageants
Creating the total package is not an easy task. It’s apparent that a large quantity of time is spent on things to morph the child into a beauty pageant winner. Andrea Canning and Jessica Hoffman, two writers for ABC News, interviewed Terry Real, a family therapist who warns that, “Pageants can cost a whole lot more than money.” What message is your daughter receiving when you’re caking makeup on her face so she can win? The parent is saying that what’s on the outside is important and since the judges are basing the majority of their scores on looks, that’s what the focus becomes. Kids will walk away with believing that if they don’t look a certain way, they won’t win. "Performance based esteem -- I have worth because of what I can do or I have worth because of my beauty -- and what you want to teach your kid is you have worth because of who you are, period," Real said. The lines between these two can become blurred when competing in pageants.
Childhood is also disrupted when little girls begin gaining a sense of our superficial world due to the fact that they’ve been involved in so many pageants. Competing in pageants requires the girls to all look a specific way. After repeatedly competing in these pageants, girls will begin to feel that this is what pretty looks like. If the glitz and the glam is winning them titles, then they might gain this perception that in order to win in life you have to be pretty. Lucia Grosaru, a psychologist wrote that, “These contests promote physical beauty as a main value.” If all that is being promoted in beauty pageants is physical beauty then that is what these children are going to focus on and obsess over. Grosaru also went on to state that, “A child, especially a female that is going to pay extra attention to her looks and that knows she is being assessed for it, is very prone to developing an eating disorder. “
So if entering your daughter in these pageants poses psychological risks, why even take the chance? An ABC news article highlighted the fact that a 2007 study by the American Psychological Association linked a premature emphasis on appearance with "three of the most common mental health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression." I recognize that not every girl who goes on to compete in pageants will develop some kind of psychological disorder, but at the same time, girls who continually enter pageants might be more at risk for developing them.
Why Are Girls Entered into Pageants?
There are a variety of reasons why some parents enter their girls in pageants, some reasons being: for money, to instill self confidence in their little girls or even to teach their girls about competition. Whatever reason a parent may have for entering their little girl in a beauty pageant, the parent must still realize that sacrifices are going to be made. Their little girl’s chance at a childhood is partly lost when entered into the pageant circuit. However every girl is different, and by taking a look at two former toddler contestants the audience can learn about two very different experiences.
Asia vs. Brooke: The Ultimate Pageant Rival
Fifteen years ago, Jane Treays created a documentary series following two little girls on the pageant circuit. The result was “Painted Babies,” a documentary series on BBC, that followed Asia and Brooke, two five year olds who were arch rivals at the time. At five, Asia was disciplined, constantly practicing, and preparing for the pageants. Treays described her as a loud but ambitious child. When Asia was asked about what her favorite part of the pageants were, she replied with, “We like to go where the money and the cars are prizes.” Asia was five years old at the time, and she didn’t say what she liked about the pageants, she described what her grandma and Asia liked. Pageants taught Asia to value material things. Five year old rival Brooke was described as a “sullen and inscrutable child.” At this young age Brooke had already won seventy-five titles, along with ten thousand dollars. Brooke’s Grandma and mother were obsessed with her. They often told Brooke that, “Winners never quit.” Brooke would practice on her parents built in stage, constantly going over the routines. Notice the pressure that Brooke’s mother and grandma had put on her at such a young age. Treays, the creator, went back in 2008 to see the girls who were now 18. She wondered whether she’d see two broken girls destroyed by pageants.
Treays found quite the opposite in fact. In Asia, she saw a light hearted, blonde teen who still competed in pageants and believes that some heads were made to wear crowns. Asia told Treays that she enjoyed the pageants and feeling like a big kid. She believes that pageants haven’t harmed her and didn’t take her childhood away. Asia’s grandmother, Marie praises her granddaughter and says that, “She’s blessed - she’s got a good upper body; you can’t have an ugly queen. Oh no.” While her grandmother’s focus seems intense, it seems as if Asia didn’t get too affected by it as a kid.
When Treays journeyed to see Brooke she saw a sporty girl who attained none of the pageant like qualities that she saw in the five year old Brooke. Brooke had become a sporty, makeup free serene individual. At age eight Brooke quit the pageant circuit stating that she just got burnt out but did say that the pageants gave her confidence and focus. Although she quit, her grandma and mom tried to bribe her back into pageants. Brooke got tired of wasting her childhood constantly practicing and doing things that her grandma and mom enjoyed. At eight she had a few more years of childhood left and although she gained confidence from the pageants she lost time from her childhood. My question is why did she have to give up one thing to get another?
Asia and Brooke are two contestants whose parents were the ones who encouraged and pushed. Both had two different experiences and came out okay in the end. It’s evident from these examples that not every regular pageant contestant will become a nightmare after it’s all said and done. However, looking at Brooke’s example it’s evident that a few years of her childhood were spent practicing, and rehearsing for the big moments onstage.
Pageants Can Instill Confidence
Parents argue that pageants allow girls to gain confidence. While that may hold true for some girls like Brooke who continually won pageants, it certainly doesn’t stand true for every girl. There are a multitude of activities that parents can involve their kids in that would allow them to gain confidence and not disrupt their girl’s childhood. Kids gain confidence from taking part in a variety of experiences. An article by Health News interviewed, Psychologist Susan Harter who says that, “Pushing children into activities they haven’t chosen for themselves can be frustrating.” Based on Harter’s theory the best thing for children to build confidence is having them participate in a variety of activities to find one they’re good at. Having a good role model to look up to and receiving praise also helps build confidence. Pageants shouldn’t be the only way a girl can build confidence. Confidence begins building during childhood. Not all of the girls who compete in pageants can win, and if competing in pageants is the only activity they take part in, it could be heartbreaking and essentially lower their confidence if they lose.
Involving a little girl in a few more activities might be more beneficial in the long run so all the focus and pressure isn’t on one. A girl can spend her childhood finding an activity that she actually likes which will help her build confidence. However there are contestants like Asia, who not only enjoyed the pageants but also gained confidence from them, despite the fact that it took up a large amount of time. Then there’s Brooke who although credits pageants with giving her confidence, also believes that it was too much pressure for a child. Getting involved in other activities might’ve benefited Brooke and given her the same confidence that pageants provided her with. A childhood won’t be wasted if a girl is spending it participating in activities that she likes and providing her with the social interaction that kids need. Participating in pageants creates unneeded pressure, during a girls childhood and takes time away from friends and family.
The 2 C's: Confidence and Cash
I recognize there are many reasons why parents enter their kids in these pageants. Some parents enter their kids into these pageants in hopes that they’ll learn about competition. Yes, there is competition in pageants because at the end of the day there can only be on winner. The girls will learn about competition through pageants but why not just get them involved in sports? Playing a sport will teach them about competition and allow them to gain confidence just like pageants can. It’s a great alternative and doesn’t pose quite the same psychological risks. Sports don’t require parents to pour in thousands of dollars, like pageants do and kids will be socializing and getting that interaction with others without spending all their time focusing on their appearance. TLC's blog that highlights its feature show, Toddler’s and Tiaras interviewed a mom who had invested over thirty-five thousand dollars in pageants over the last six months. Playing sports is a lot less expensive and allows children to maintain their childhood longer as opposed to if they were entering pageants.
Some parents may also argue that pageants bring in money that could be used for college. Time magazine did an article showcasing pageant misses, one being, Lisa Iverson. At age six, Iverson has won eight major pageant titles and has won enough money to pay for college. Although Iverson has won enough cash for college, she is one out of many, many girls. It is highly unlikely that every girl who competes in a pageant will end up winning vast sums of money. A girl’s childhood would be better spent in activities that she would enjoy doing, activities that would allow her to enjoy her childhood, and activities that would help her develop self confidence.
Some parents also do it because they did it as a child. By getting their daughters to do it, they’re vicariously living through them. Parents who push their daughters into these toddler pageants need to ask themselves if they’re doing this for themselves or for the sake of their daughter.
Childhood is Sacred
Regardless of the reasons a mother enters her daughter into pageants, the fact of the matter is time will be lost from a little girls childhood. Pageants pose psychological risks, require a constant influx of money, and time. Yes, pageants can win girls some money and help build self confidence, but those things aren’t guaranteed. Self confidence can be built from other activities, and money can be acquired through doing chores or setting up a piggy bank.
The thing I’m getting at here is the fact that the main thing pageants take away from a child is time. These girls who are competing in the pageant circuit are losing their childhood, due to the fact that their time is being spent getting primed for pageants. Parents always say kids grow up so fast. So parents, give your little girls the opportunity and time to be kids. Time goes by fast enough and life is too short to be having your little girl engage in an activity that promotes being a “big girl.” Once they cross that line there is no going back. If your daughter wants to do a pageant, limit it.