BY KAYLA LOKEINSKY
On stage under the white-hot spotlight, a “Little Miss” contestant struts her stuff in a scantily clad bikini, shaking her hips and smiling for the judges. Her mile-high hair, fake eyelashes, caked on makeup, and spray tan make her seem unnatural, more like a drag queen then a beauty queen. However, this isn’t a 23 year old running for the title of Miss America; it’s five-year-old Joanna competing with dozens of other Barbie doll look-alikes for the title of Little Miss Perfect. This disturbing exploitation of children in the beauty pageant world has become more prevalent than ever before.
Despite all the contestants’ arguments that the pagents promote self-confidence and raise self-esteem, it promotes the wrong message to young girls. Beauty pagents emphasize one thing, beauty, and the women in these pageants become the role models of the younger generations. By having them strut on stage in barely-there bikinis and outrageous costumes in a contest where being beautiful gets you the crown, they are showing young girls that this type of behavior is exceptable both on and off the pageant stage.
In a post-Jon Benet Ramsey world, the very concept of incredibly young girls strutting around on stage in swimsuits and synthetic hair extententions in the bid to be crowned the next “Miss” something is bound to cause controversy. The Television Learning Channel (TLC) doesn’t seem to mind, as they took viewers a little deeper into that world with their latest, most disturbing show, “Toddlers and Tiaras.”
“Toddlers and Tiaras” features incredibly young girls as they prepare for their latest beauty pageant. In a nutshell, the reality show shadows little girls with larger than life attitudes who are competing in kiddy beauty pageants. It highlights the pre-show process the contestants go through before the big day. From crying while getting their eyebrows waxed to hours of grueling practice, the show reveals the price these toddlers must pay in order to win. It also shows that even at a young age these girls know that if they don’t look the best then they won’t be the best.
Beauty pageants are teaching girls at a young and vunerable age that being beautiful will get you to the top, and in order to get on top, some of the contestants go to extreme measures to make sure that they’re the best in show. They dress up in costumes that even the wildest teenagers wouldn’t dare to wear in public: Vegas show girls, Madonna look-a-likes complete with cone-shaped bras, and girls in bikinis being carried on a surf board by two muscular lifeguards. The parents and pageant coordinators claim the costumes are “cute” and “adorable”, but what they don’t realize is that they are exploiting their little girls and depicting as sexual figures.
“This show sickens me,” one mother from CafeMom.com said. “Who in their right mind would think it is okay to dress their little girl up in wigs, makeup, fake tans, false teeth and scantily clad clothes and parade them on a stage in front of a bunch of middle-aged men and have them voted on being beautiful?”
The biggest question that has risen from the publicity of these types of beauty pageants is whether or not they’re healthy for children to participate in. Psychologists argue that participating in this realm of pageantry from such a young age can trigger a raft of developmental problems. If you teach the contestants that outer beauty is the only thing that matters and then superficiality will take over their perception of beauty.
“Toddler beauty pageants set a superficial expectation about what makes someone beautiful – that beauty is primarily about your pose, your smile, your hair, and the clothes you wear. Self-worth should not be tied to competitions,” childhood behavioral health psychologist Dr. Mike Bishop said.”Toddlers are not old enough to make an informed decision as to whether they should compete. Nor are they able to separate the competition from reality, which can make participation even more damaging to their self-esteem.”
However, there are a select few who defend this kid of pageantry, mainly the parents who force their children to participate. They justify their actions by saying that it teaches children self confidence and poise and that the prize money that they win will go toward furthering their education. But the thousands of dollars that the parents shell out for their children to do the pageants exceed the amount they might actually win, IF they’re “beautiful enough” to do so. These parents spend thousands of dollars on pageants between the entry fees, the pageant coaches, the costumes, and the beautification process and for what? A plastic crown, a sash, and a thousand dollars at most.
These contestants’ mothers are living out their dreams of being young and beautiful through their young daughters who are too young to have a choice in the matter. In almost every episode of “Toddlers and Tiaras” the pagent mom is a washed up former beauty queen who just wants their daughter to feel as beautiful as she did when she did pagents. However, their quest for the fountain of youth is just leading their children down a dangerous road of superficiality.
The bottom line is, from baby pageants to the Miss America pageant, no part of any pageant should be based on beauty. That’s sending the wrong message, especially to these young girls forced to replicate plastic dolls, prance around on stage, and be judged on how cute they are. These pageants do nothing but promote superficiality and lower the self esteem of all the little girls who aren’t as perfect as these contestants are made up to be. Young girls need to be told at a young age that real beauty comes from within, not from outer appearance.