Child beauty pageants have been on my mind lately. I know some people that enroll their children in pageants, but I’ve never been to one myself. The most experience I have is some clips from pageant shows like Toddlers & Tiaras on TLC. Given that, I’m talking purely about my thoughts on pageants without any real first-hand experience. (Though I’d like to go to one just once to see what it’s all about.)
So what happens at a beauty pageant? What is it? Essentially a beauty pageant is a contest over physical attractiveness. Some contests have portions of that focus on talent and interview, but a majority of the points come from the beauty and grace of the contestants as well as their outfits. Contestants try to sway the judges by having the brightest smile, cutest clothes, and prettiest hair. Some pageants allow makeup, others don’t. Some contests are small, usually held at local community centers and fairs. Others a larger and part of a national circuit. Some are judged by a panel, others are open to public votes. Procedures differ from pageant to pageant, but essentially the point is to try to convince somebody else that your child is the prettiest.
Given that, I ask, why would somebody enter their child in a pageant? If a parent walked in on a group of kids fighting over who had the best dress or the prettiest face, most people would suggest that all the girls are pretty, or that everyone is different and the shouldn’t compare themselves to each other. So why does the involvement of a stage and judges make such a contest okay?
I can understand why parents enter their children in pageants. There’s a ton of reasons, both good and bad:
- Build confidence and self-esteem
- Learn social skills, poise, and public speaking
- Push children to be the best
- Win cash prizes and scholarships
- Have fun dressing up children in fantastic frocks, makeup, and hairdos
- Live through children to achieve goals not earned in life
- Encourage a talent
- Bragging rights among other parents
- Children enjoy performing
- Exposure for bigger gigs like modeling or acting
- Engage in competition
- Promote good behavior (winners can lose their crowns if found acting inappropriately, but that’s mostly older contestants)
Bad reasons aside, I don’t think it’s wrong to want many of the things listed above. But I don’t think one needs to enter a pageant to do so. Kids can learn healthy competition, explore talents, win scholarships, build social skills, perform, and gain confidence in numerous ways through physical, social, and academic activities. Even the fun of crazy outfits and hair can be met in a game of dress up. Children can do all of these things without being subjected to the scrutiny and value judgement given by a panel or audience.
I can imagine by this point that some would call a pageant healthy competition. There are winners and losers in sports and kids can handle that. What’s the difference with a pageant? Well, I think the major difference is that in sports or academic style competitions, children are judged on their talents and skills. If a child doesn’t win, they can refine their skills, work harder, and sometimes must accept that some are more talented. But what do you tell a child that doesn’t place at a pageant? She isn’t pretty enough? She should build her hair higher and her makeup thicker? Or she should accept that some girls are just prettier? I think in a beauty contest there isn’t room for action. Sure, you can always buy more clothes and work on a child’s talent, but it still boils down to who is the prettiest in the eyes of the judges. And I think that’s an unfair and pointless contest. At least in other competitions children are encouraged to improve athletic or academic skills when they fail. But pageants just promote more obsession over looks and how others perceive them. I think it cripples children into constantly working for the opinions of others, rather than themselves.
And I think that’s the heart of the evil of it. The whole aim of the pageant, from buying clothes to practicing smiles to putting on makeup for the event, is to persuade the judge to think that your child is the most beautiful. It’s all about the subjective opinion of somebody else. It sends the message that your child’s value rests not in herself, but in the hands of other people.
And while the placement in a pageant may not matter to most kids and may not have long standing effects, why would you put your child in that situation in the first place? I don’t think the arguments for child pageants have any legs to stand on. Whatever benefits there might be are not worth the means and can be achieved in more healthy ways.
If anyone has any further (respectful) comments, pro or con, I’d like to hear them.