The ugly world of child beauty pageants

So this post is a bit off topic, I apologise to those of you who were probably hoping to see lots of cute photo’s of Poppy pulling funny faces. Another time I promise, but this got my back up so much I just had to write about it.

Whilst watching ‘This Morning’ the other day (I know what you are thinking, we don’t have a TV, I was having such a bad day I watched day time TV on catch up. Sympathy welcome!) I was horrified to listen to a woman defending the American child beauty pageant industry as she put her four year old daughter in mini skirts, crop tops, fake tan and make up to prance around and wiggle her bum on stage. Of course I knew about these pageants and the debates they spark, but having my own daughter made me take the things she said a bit more seriously.

The first thing I’d like to address is these parents insistence on how their children WANT to take part in the pageants; nobody is forcing them and they love it! Of course they do. Many kids would love to eat chocolate all day, drink fizzy drinks and watch endless TV; it doesn’t mean it is good for them. Some things we love are dangerous, but the effects are not immediately obvious. The pageants might be fun at first but they could have a dangerous impact on your child’s emotional development. Of course this is useless explaining to a four year old who desperately wants to take part just as there is not much point reasoning with a toddler who wants the whole bag of cookies. It is our job to teach our children what is appropriate and what is not and to protect them from anything that could have a negative impact on their development.

The mother on ‘This Morning’ argued that she was not sexualising her child in any way and that if people looked at her in a sexual way that was their problem. Well I hate to be the bearer of bad news but the fact is that all of the products and clothing that these mothers are allowing their children to wear are sexualised by the media, there is no escaping it and certainly no denying it. A quick search of the word ‘sexy’ on boots.com brings up many results all of which are beauty products or perfume.

The first few are lip glosses; ‘Sexy Mother Pucker’. The next one that catches my eyes is ‘Sexy curls and waves’ hair tongs; all of the young beauty pageant girls have their hair styled with tongs or similar products. The list goes on; ‘Sexy eye palette’, ‘Smokin’ eyes…sexy eye & brow kit’, ‘Flared lashes for a temptingly sexy look’. Even a hairbrush is called ‘Oh So Sexy!’. We have all seen the makeup adverts on TV and in magazines, flawless, slim women with sultry seductive expressions, pouting lips, blowing kisses, perhaps a cheeky wink or other flirty behavior. Sex sex sex. The mother featured on ‘This Morning’ repeatedly denied that she did not use the word ‘sexy’ to describe any part of her daughter’s beauty pageant regime, so I guess we at least agree that it is an inappropriate label to give a four year old? And yet by encouraging the use of such products, and perhaps even a little bit of the flirty behavior, she is inadvertently labeling her child as sexy and allowing other’s to do the same.

As a side note, I did find a TV makeup ad that used slightly more realistic ladies than your typical flawless model, however the backing music was Jessie J’s ‘Sexy Lady’, suggesting that no matter who you are, however average looking you may be, their make up will turn you into a sexy lady. Oh well thank goodness for that!!!

Other words commonly used in makeup advertisements include perfect, infallible, flawless and immaculate. By entertaining the idea that make up will make you perfect and allowing your four year old child to transform herself with these products in order to win a beauty competition, you are teaching her that being herself is not enough. Her imperfections become a problem, something that needs to be fixed. She will grow up obsessing about these imperfections, always aspiring to that unrealistic ‘perfect’ image. If she doesn’t respect and love herself and her body she will allow others to disrespect her too. Doesn’t every mother want their daughter to be comfortable in her own skin and end up with a man who respects her and her body?

As for the outfits in these American pageants, the mother on ‘This Morning’ argued that children wear short skirts and crop tops on hot days, what’s the difference?  The difference is that alongside an ice lolly stain smeared across their t shirt, windswept hair, muddy feet from playing in the park and their haphazard hyperactive movements as they go about their childish play, that skimpy outfit does nothing but show them for exactly what they are, a child, wearing child’s clothes that reveal a child’s body. As soon as that bare flesh is coupled with a face full of make up, perfect hair, high heels and a walk full of attitude, that body takes on a whole new meaning. That little girl has now become a miniature version of the scantily dressed women you see in music videos, grinding against a man or shaking their butts in underwear. She looks in the mirror and sees herself looking exactly like the sex symbols she sees in the media, less a few feet in height.

Don’t get me wrong, when I was a child I loved dressing up in my mum’s clothes, tottering along in heels that were ten times too big for me, smudging lipstick across my face and pretending to be all grown up. But there’s the difference; it was all pretend, and I knew that. I was playing make believe at being like my mum, not because she was sexy and glamorous or aesthetically perfect with every man in the world after her, but because she was the person I loved the most and hoped I would be like one day. It wasn’t the lipstick and heels that made me admire her, I admired her just as much when she was in her sloppy joggers with her hair pulled back. I admired her because she cared for me no matter what, she made me feel better, she held my hand and smiled at me and everything was OK, she worked hard and still had time for her family, she taught me so much, she listened, she was fun, she was intelligent, she was strong, she was perfect to me, despite the fact that she wasn’t at all. She was my number one role model and she did a pretty good job at it. That is why I wanted to wear her heels and make up, not because I thought it was the only way I would be accepted in life but because she had already accepted me for everything that I was, and what a wonderful lady she must be to have made me feel that good about myself. Of course I was influenced by media and had my fair share of insecurities as a teenager, it is impossible not to have, but can’t we save that for when they get older, and let them enjoy being an innocent child whilst they can? The girls in these pageants are not playing make believe in mummy’s oversized dresses. They are put in outfits that DO fit them, despite the fact that they are designed on fashion for much older girls, their make up is professional and mistake free, like the celebrities they see in magazines, and they shake their butts like the half naked women in the music videos. Would you rather your daughter aspired to be a great, multi-talented person like their mummy or a Barbie with barely any clothes on?

Like it or not, by letting your child be a part of the beauty pageant world you HAVE sexualised them. Like it or not you HAVE told your child that their flaws should be corrected. Like it or not you HAVE exposed your child to a world where women are judged on their looks and where nothing less than perfect is good enough. What happened to ‘You can be anything you want to be’? That certainly isn’t the message you are giving your daughter who has her whole life ahead of her. In my opinion you are snatching away opportunity and hope before she even had a chance to experience it by telling her it is no use unless you look like this and act like that. What a shame in a world full of opportunity to present your daughter with such a limited start in life.

Perhaps you think this is all a bit over the top and I am over analysing something that is just a bit of harmless fun. That is easy for you to say, we are adults who know better. Our children do not know better, they are vulnerable, easily influenced and they believe everything you tell them without question. Stop telling them that they are not good enough. Tell them they are wonderful, tell them they are beautiful, tell them they are smart, tell them that they can do anything they want to in life and tell them they are loved, just the way they are.

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