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What Are We Teaching Our Children? (Child Beauty Pageants)

As a parent, you are a dual citizen and consequently you will be thrust into different roles. While you are a member of your individual community and must maintain the responsibility inherent with that position, your primary role is to be parent as a member of the community of your family.
As the aunt of a beautiful little girl, I can relate to some of the worries and struggles parents encounter. We want to ensure that we are doing the best we can do provide a safe environment where our children can thrive and become the best version of themselves.
However, it is physically impossible to watch and be with your children every moment of every day. Therefore, when you can’t be around to watch and guide your children, you hope that they will be surrounded by people who will be a good example to them.
It is getting harder to control what and who surround your children. Even if you could control who your children associate with, you cannot control the outside influences that affect them; especially the media. The media is so pervasive into our society and our daily lives, that the possibility of escaping it is highly unrealistic.
Not only does the media intrude into our lives, but it possesses a great influence in how we think about ourselves, as well as others. This can be a positive tool, but more often than not it provides more negative influences than positive. For instance, the highly perfectionist standard of beauty that is portrayed in commercials, TV shows, and magazines causes great stress concerning body image and self esteem. Many young people, especially young girls, see the unrealistic standards that are shown in the media and begin to find fault with themselves because they “seemingly”, do not measure up.
While appreciation of natural physical beauty is completely normal and acceptable, it is not what defines your worth or someone elses. Furthermore, when admiration of physical beauty becomes the predominant way we evaluate others, there is a serious danger.
It seems absurd to suggest that one judge the quality of another human being according to their physical attractiveness, and if this idea were stated blatantly, most people would never consider themselves to be so superficial as to do so. Nevertheless, we do exactly that in the form of beauty pageants.
Beauty pageants have been around for ages, dating all the way back to the time of ancient Greece. The origin of beauty pageants is said to start with the Greek myth, The Judgement of Paris. In this myth, Paris was asked to judge between the three most beautiful goddesses of Olympus - Aphrodite, Athena, and Hera.
Since then, and probably before then our cultures have become obsessed with comparing the physical appearances of one another, especially those who have been deemed beautiful by society.
Beauty pageants originated in the U.S. in 1921 when a crafty, Atlantic hotel manager decided to plan a fall festival as a way to entice tourists to stay in town past Labor Day. To do this, he planned somewhat of a beauty “show” on the beach, in which beautiful women from different communities around the area would be selected to participate. A local newsman, Herb Test, suggested the winner of the contest be titled “Miss America.” This is where the, still very popular “Miss America Pageant”, originated. Obviously, this event was quite was a success, as it has been a continued trend from that point on, with various ups and downs in it’s popularity.
It wasn't until the 1960s that child beauty pageants became part of the pageant industry. In 1961, the first “Little Miss America” pageant was held at the Palisade Amusement Park in New Jersey. The pageant was originally intended for children between the ages of 13 and 17. However, within a few years the “Little Miss America” pageant had grown so popular and much larger, that it was decided it would be necessary to divide the pageant into more age groups.
Over the past decades, child pageantry has continued to become increasingly and somewhat disturbingly popular. It has evolved into much more than it’s original debut at the Palisades Amusement Park.
Not only are the beauty pageants for children, including babies and toddlers, but there are reality TV shows explicitly dedicated to following child beauty pageant contestants as well as their families. Take the reality television show on TLC called Toddlers and Tiaras for example. This show has sparked much controversy, receiving a wide variety of complaints. Some claim the content of the show is borderline pornographic because of the risque clothes the children wear. Still, others say it is psychologically damaging to the young contestants because of the implication with this show, that physical beauty is what is most important. Toddlers and Tiaras has received almost no positive feedback from it’s viewers and has become a sensation mostly due to the fact that it is so outrageous.
These complaints are not without substance. Contestants spend many hours practicing how to walk, smile, and do their turns for when they are on the runway. These young girls are paraded around in skimpy outfits and plastered with makeup. It is also not uncommon for there to be frequent meltdowns among the contestants, due to the large amount of stress placed on them by their parents and the effects of reality TV.
Parents who allow or force their children to compete in these beauty pageants often do so under in the name of getting money so that they will be able to afford to send their children to college.
However, what these parents may fail to remember is the cost at which they are “bettering” their childrens lives. The question that should and must be asked is: does the temporary reward of money, outweigh the loss of childhood and the kind of detrimental effects that this could have?
To fully understand the reality of child beauty pageants, I think it is important to give careful consideration to psychological and socially stinting effects they can, and often have.
As sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and parents we want what is best for the children of the future generation. We strive to teach them the importance of good character and want them to know the importance of kindness and consideration, and the value of exercising intelligence and creativity.
If this then is true, if this is what is valued, it seems contradictory to support an institution that devalues these morals and ethics, and places a higher precedence on physical attractiveness. In placing such a stress on physical appearance, we are subconsciously, if not consciously, teaching children that what they look like, is more important than how they can contribute to society by being well rounded, good and informed citizens.
This message that we are sending children, of the importance of physical beauty, has more far reaching effects than just merely that physical beauty is what is most important. It sends the message and implication that if they do not measure up to a certain standard of beauty portrayed by society, they are somehow not as worthy or important. Each subsequent problem that is caused because of child beauty pageants, brings on an onslaught of more problems. Low self esteem then leads to a feeling of worthlessness; it leads to people settling for less than what they do, and unfortunately this often results in abusive relationships.
Sarah Jepsen, a long time teacher at Living Word Academy, says, “their self worth is tied to their looks and body some of which they have no control over. Some girls might be so concerned that they will feel the need to have cosmetic surgery in order to look the way they’d like to look.”I am not saying that child beauty pageants are solely to blame for these problems, but they are definitely a contributing factor and worth our time and consideration.
Another aspect of child beauty pageants that is worth considering, especially extreme beauty pageants such as Toddlers and Tiaras, is the deprivation of childhood. These contestants spend hours learning how to model. While other children are running around playing and enjoying the simplicity of being a child, these children are being subjected to societal ideals that we as adults often struggle to face.
Jepsen says “beauty pageants force the child to face adult issues when they are still too young to be thinking about these things - they should be having a carefree childhood rather than stressing over weight, facial features, make up, etc.Having to face mature issues too soon can cause the child to grow up too quickly.” She adds that by forcing a child to grow up too early it can also lead to missing out on important milestones in their development as a person, which could later on lead to emotional problems.
Speaking of the show Toddlers and Tiaras, Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for the Parents Television Council said, “This is the most blatant example of sexulatization of a child that I have seen.” Girls on these shows are frequently dressed in inappropriately revealing clothing. They are taught to strut around and flaunt their undeveloped bodies.
In 2011, there was a huge outrage, when six-year old Eden Wood, from Toddlers and Tiaras, marched down a runway at New York Fashion Week, in short denim shorts and a shirt exposing her midriff. Many in the audience were shocked and appalled at the presentation of this six year old, saying she was gyrating and dancing provocatively. Sadly, this is not at all uncommon for the contestants of child beauty pageants. Furthermore, Jepsen adds, “It teaches children that if they look good, they can do what they’d like and go places in life without having moral character and intelligence. This concept will have negative effects on any girl.” Is this really what we want for our children? Is this the basis on which we want the next generation to be built? I think not.
As I look around the world that surrounds me and you, I envision the future of my niece and my future children as I’m sure you as parents envision the future of your children. I hope that they will not fall victim to the lies that society perpetuates about beauty. Looking back into my childhood, I remember the first time, I as a child, really realized how society has set up certain and strict definitions of what it beautiful.
I remember how my younger cousin Emily, who was only about 5 years old at the time, stood in front of the mirror in the bathroom trying to make her curly hair straight, by using a wet cloth and pressing it on her head while she brushed her hair. She cried because her hair wasn’t straight, and she thought she wasn’t pretty because it was curly.
So, as parents, I ask you to imagine a future where there are no longer set standards for what beauty is. Where your children will be free to grow up without the worry that they will be judged based on their appearance. However, when we continue with practices of child beauty pageants, this will never be a reality.
As Martin Luther King said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.” Therefore, in order to make a change, we must start to struggle. We must struggle against the standards that are set up by society and fight to change them. Now is that time.


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