Child Beauty Pageants

July 29, 2011, 10:59 am Fiona Baker Yahoo!7

As a child beauty pageant run by a US company accused of sexualising children kicks off in Melbourne today, police are standing by in case of protest ugliness, and the Victorian Government has asked the Child Safety Commissioner to attend. Fiona Baker gets both sides of this controversial topic.

Child Beauty Pageants
Toddler + Preschooler

Protesters against child beauty pageants rally in Canberra.

Mention “child beauty pageants” in conversation, and you can expect some fairly polarised responses. Google it and you’ll be bombarded by images of heavily made-up young girls in glitter as well as a long list of angry stories and blogs.

Ever since Universal Royalty Beauty Pageants, the Texan outfit behind some of the attention-grabbing pageants featured in the addictive reality-television series Toddlers & Tiaras, announced it was coming to Australia, there’s been vigorous discussion about children’s beauty pageants in the media, in childcare car-parks and at dinner tables around the nation.

In May, a series of ‘Pull the Pin’ rallies protesting against children’s beauty pageants were held across the country, and many psychologists, feminists and even the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists have come out in vehement opposition to the shows.

Meanwhile, Australian mums are signing up their daughters, sons and even themselves (in the ‘Mrs Division’) to compete in the contest when the Universal Royalty show rolls into Melbourne on July 29 and 30. ›

Those in favour

It’s a difficult task finding anyone except the Australian organisers of the Universal Royalty pageant to come out in support of these events. It seems that for many, a major stumbling block (although there are many), is the use of the word ‘beauty’ in relation to kids.

But the Australian contact for the event, Kristin Kyle, who runs a children’s modelling agency in Melbourne, has signed up her

three daughters, aged three, nine and 12 years, to take part in the pageant. Though the competition is open to boys, too, her son has chosen not to enter.

“We are all very excited about it. As a mum, I would never let my children be involved in something that wasn’t a positive experience. I know this is going to be a fun opportunity for my girls,” Kristin says.

The US website promoting the Melbourne event also promises that it will be a great time for all. “We continue to be the leaders in maintaining pageants in a positive, fun-filled atmosphere and by encouraging positive self-confidence, education and striving to be your very best!” spruiks Universal Royalty.

Kristin admits she’s been shocked by the “nasty and unpleasant” backlash the pageant has received in Australia. “It’s been extreme and quite shocking the amount of hatred that’s come from the anti-pageant people,” she says.

“They’re basing their opinions purely on what they’ve seen on Toddlers & Tiaras. But that’s a reality show which had to show the more extreme side of pageants in the US so people would watch the program. The pageant in Melbourne will not be like that. It will have a distinctive Aussie flavour. I think if some of the people who are anti-pageants could see one before passing judgement, they would be surprised what a positive experience they actually are.”

Nastiness, protests and insults aside, it seems that the controversy has not completely hurt the pageant – at the time of writing, more than 100 contestants from around Australia had registered for the event.

Those against

The list of people and organisations opposed to glitzy children’s beauty pageants being held in Australia is long and loud. Catherine Manning, a mum of four and director of the children’s-rights advocacy group Say No 4 Kids, has mobilised nationwide protests and petitions against children’s beauty pageants by launching the Pull the Pin campaign.

“It’s one thing for little girls to play dress-ups… parading around the lounge room – but when adults come along and turn it into a fierce competition for money and prizes, complete with professional make-up artists, hairdressers and photographers, that’s just creepy and every kind of wrong,” she says in an article for Enlighten Education, which runs programs to help girls develop self-esteem and confidence.

“I don’t think it’s acceptable for parents to have girls as young as three years old coiffed, waxed and primped, then paraded in a competition against other little girls. Girls are already constantly bombarded with narrow beauty ideals in our culture,” she says, pointing to examples such as music video clips that tell littlies “they should look and behave like grown women”.

“We should be combatting the message society sends our children that they’re ‘not enough’ – not foisting beauty competition culture upon them.”

Expert opinions

Many psychologists and experts dealing with children’s mental health have also weighed in on the debate, with education consultant and parenting expert Kathy Walker describing the concept of child beauty pageants as “outrageous”.

“Anyone who pretends that this sort of thing builds confidence must be deluded. It perpetuates the myth that you have to have beauty and a good body shape to be a winner in life,” she says. “These young children are not able to make informed decisions to enter this competition – it is their parents. It is disempowering and gives [kids] a message that life is about competing against each other instead of developing their own sense of self and learning to like who they are – not what they look like.”

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has also officially voiced its opinion, when chairman Dr Phillip Brock said that the pageant objectifies and judges children “against sexualised ideals”.

“[We] would like to emphasise the potential developmental harm that can be associated with the sexualisation of children and tweens.

Sexualisation is a process whereby a child’s value is based on their appearance or behaviour to the exclusion of other characteristics, and attractiveness as a child is equated with being sexy,” he says. “There are many healthy contexts for dressing up, parading, role rehearsal and participation in school performances… where children can act out their development in an age-appropriate manner.”

What’s a mum to do?
So many parenting issues are contentious, and the beauty-pageants debate is yet another to add to the list. In the end, it’s up to you

if you want to enter your child – or yourself – in any pageant or contest.

Clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller has one request for mums and dads considering taking part in a ‘glitz’ pageant, though: do your research.

“While I’m personally not a supporter of child beauty pageants, I understand some parents may want their children to take part. If possible, attend one first purely to observe. And make sure you read the rules and conditions of entry,” he advises.

For more on this issue, pick up a copy of this month's Practical Parenting, on sale now.

What do you think? Are child beauty pageants akin to child abuse and contribute to the sexualisation of children or are they harmless fun for kids?

Discuss this with our forum members here


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  1. Kyle02:59pm Monday 26th September 2011 ESTReport Abuse

    Sickening. Period.

  2. Samira08:34am Saturday 30th July 2011 ESTReport Abuse

    I think people should mind their own business! The talk about sexualising children is so irritating and plain idiotic, I don't watch morning shows or news near my daughter incase she hears this rubbish and start asking what it all means, she doesn't need to know word sexualising.

  3. Stan07:13am Saturday 30th July 2011 ESTReport Abuse

    These children have no childhood, their mothers are dressing them up like sexual objects just or their own egos.

  4. emsmum02:25am Saturday 30th July 2011 ESTReport Abuse

    I'd like to know what these parents are thinking. Are they unhappy with just having a normal child? Are they insecure about how THEY look and want reassurance through their child? Do they really want their daughters growing up to believe that looks are the only important thing? Why are they setting their kids up for failure - only 1 can win? I hope DOCS is standing by - this is child abuse!!

  5. kat01:00am Saturday 30th July 2011 ESTReport Abuse

    Besides the obvious child abuse and brainwashing…if they like it so much why the losers crying their eyes out if things not going their ways…..

  6. DianneF12:29am Saturday 30th July 2011 ESTReport Abuse

    I think this all boils down to the raunchy dance that the six year old did. It looked ever so disscusting. Maybe that is why so many people are againgst the pageant. Even though she is too young to understand her mother should know better. Crystal you are right in part of what you say but we don't see the children gyrating in front of an audience like little miss 6 years old.

  7. kat12:21am Saturday 30th July 2011 ESTReport Abuse

    What a hypocrite is Eden’s mum when she said on the TV that the Child Beauty Pageant is like any other event what children do… why the need for dressing her 6 years old child in that ridicules too-too with make up when they visiting the Zoo….is it for the wombats and for the kangaroos…stupidity of these parents are unbarable…..

  8. envy12:19am Saturday 30th July 2011 ESTReport Abuse

    These mothers should be put in jail,exploiting children like this, just to boost there demented egos, they dont deserve to have kids just to make them available to pedos...sick sick sick

  9. namron11:25pm Friday 29th July 2011 ESTReport Abuse

    Can any of these parents honestly claim their child has a natural ability to perform like this? If they were honest they would admit they are only feeding their own self seeking pretentious ego and pushing the child to perform. As a matter of interest a definition of the word pageant is “a pretentious display or show that conceals a lack of real importance or meaning. “

  10. Lynette11:20pm Friday 29th July 2011 ESTReport Abuse

    EXCUSE ME, there has always been a beauty pageants here in Australia from babies to adults most have been used for fundraising event. Possible not as much as they way the American does it, but here in Australia on a smaller scale. With all the commotion about the Beauty Pageants and one litle girl from America, this has blown out of proportion that causing some alarm to the amout of people protesting with police presence etc like if something bad is going to happen and should not be the case! If the child is happy, willing to have a go well that could be a good thing, may not go on forever as these kids alike gain experiences in beauty pageants may or may not help them later in life. YES it can create bad things if not done properly and legally, but protesting can cause more problem itself!

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