Child beauty pageant
A child beauty pageant is a beauty contest featuring contestants under 18 years of age. Competition categories may include talent, interview, sportswear, casual wear, swim wear, western wear, theme wear, outfit of choice, decade wear, and evening wear. Depending on the type of pageant system (Glitz/Natural) contestants may be found wearing makeup as well as elaborate hairstyles and custom designed and fitted outfits to present their routines on stage.
Beauty pageants started in 1921 when the owner of an Atlantic City hotel struck upon the idea to help boost tourism. However, that idea had already circulated through "Most Beautiful Child" contests held in major cities across the country. The Little Miss America pageant began in the 1960s at Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. Originally, it was for teenagers from 13 to 17 years old, but by 1964 there were over 35,000 participants, which prompted an age division. The modern child beauty pageant emerged in the early 1960s, held in Miami, Florida. Since then, the industry has grown to include about 250,000 pageants. It is an increasingly lucrative business, bringing in about twenty billion dollars a year.
The murder of JonBenét Ramsey in late 1996 turned the public spotlight onto child beauty pageants. Critics began to question the ethics of parents who would present their child in such a way. Dan Rather was noted for criticizing CBS for airing Ramsey’s tapes, calling them “kiddie porn.”
In 2001, HBO aired its Emmy-winning Living Dolls: The Making of a Child Beauty Queen, which garnered much attention. Additionally, TLC has created shows such as Toddlers & Tiaras and King of the Crown, the former dedicated to the world of High Glitz child pageantry and the latter to the world of pageant coaching.
While most beauty pageants cater strictly to girls, there are a growing number that include boys as well. Often, age divisions for boys run through age 6 with very few going beyond that due to lack of participation and public perception. Age divisions will often have names such as "Baby Miss", "Petite Miss", "Little Miss" and more. Age divisions are generally broken as follows: 0-11 Months, 12-23 Months, 2-3 Years, 4-6 Years, 7-9 Years, 10-12 Years, 13-15 Years, 16-18 Years. For boys, sometimes two age divisions would be merged such as 0-3 Years, 4-6 Years, etc.
Depending on which type of pageant system is entered, contestants will spend about two hours or less in actual competition. Typically, pageants have a guideline of "no more than one and a half minutes on stage" per child for beauty/formalwear and other modeling-based events. Talent usually is limited to two minutes or less with the rare exception allowing two and a half to three minutes.
In Glitz pageants, it is expected that girls will have different "routines" for every segment of competition. Routines are composed of different movements sometimes described as "sassy walk" and "pretty feet" and more. Facial expressions can include liberal amounts of "duckface". This style of modeling is often referred to as "Pro-Am Modeling". Big hair (including fake hair), flawless makeup, spray tans, flippers (fake teeth) and nail extensions are also expected of contestants. Glitz pageants may best be described as "anything goes".
In contrast, natural pageants have fairly strict guidelines regarding clothing, makeup, hair extensions, etc. Programs such as National American Miss forbid any makeup other than non-shiny lipgloss and mascara for girls on stage. Modeling style is often referred to "Miss America-Style". Some pageants have a prescribed set of movements while others allow a little more latitude in how girls will use the stage/runway.
All pageants have slightly different guidelines, rules, criteria for what they judge on, and events. Events may include sportswear, swimwear, evening wear, talent, interview, writing skills, and modeling. Children are critiqued on “individuality, capability, poise, and confidence.” They compete to win a variety of prizes, such as electronics, toys, scholarships and grants, cash, tiaras, sashes, robes, and trophies. Trophies can be taller than the contestants themselves; in the “Our Little Miss” pageant, the World level trophies can be 5 to 6 feet tall. Some pageants do their best to make every child feel like a winner. There is a queen for every age division and there are Ultimate Grand Supreme awards, Mini supreme queens for certain blocks of age divisions (0-5, 6-11, 12-16, 17 and up). There are also side awards and overall side awards.
A rising trend in pageantry is the online, specialty or mail-in pageant. Social media sites like Facebook have many photo contest and pageant pages where contestant's photos are judged by how many "likes" they receive. There is even a website devoted to this type of pageant program. Unlike the live/on-stage counterparts, contestants in an online pageant submit an application and photographs/videos for judging. Judging criteria can range from past pageant achievements, numeric scale ratings and essays. Winners may be awarded virtual prizes such downloadable certificates and being featured on a pageant's website or physical prizes and gifts such as tiaras, sashes, medallions, toys and more. Entry fees typically range from $5–80 depending on the type, level and scope (local/state/national/international). Many are seasonal or theme-based. See here for an example. Others may be a counterpart to a live/on-stage event.
Some pageants are a for-profit business venture while others are run as non-profit organizations. Typically, non-profits have low entry fees and sponsor a charity or other humanitarian organization.
The average cost of a pageant depends on a few factors: Glitz or Natural; Local, State or National; distance from home; costuming requirements.
Entry fees can range from free to many hundreds of dollars. Additionally, optional events or side awards may be offered for an upcharge as well. Many pageants offer a "Supreme" title which can include hundreds to thousands of dollars in cash or savings bonds as an added incentive to enter every category. Typically Supreme titles are only available to those who enter a certain number of optional events.
Many pageants are held in hotels and require contestants to stay on-site for at least one day or more due to the pageant schedule. Hotel rooms for pageants generally range from $99–179/night depending on where the hotel is located.
In a glitz pageant, makeup and hair are typically done by a professional makeup artist. Natural pageants do not generally require a professional makeup artist or hair dresser although some girls choose to use them in the older age divisions.
Dresses and themed costumes can cost anywhere from $50 to $8000, depending on the designer, the amount of adornment on the garment and whether the gown was rented, purchased used or purchased new. Many pageant moms pride themselves on making most of their child's pageant wardrobe as a cost-saving measure.
Additionally, some parents hire pageant coaches to teach their child professionally choreographed routines and/or work with them on interview questions/answers. Regardless of pageant style, glitz or natural, it can be beneficial to have an unbiased opinion on interview and clothing choices. It is estimated that the attire and props as they relate to costs of putting a child through a beauty pageant can range from $300 and upward of $5000 depending on the level of competition.
Parents have confessed to spending over $30,000 on pageants for their small children on TLC's show Toddlers & Tiaras. There have even been cases of families going into debt or losing their homes because of overextending family resources to cover the costs that the pageants required.
To defray the cost of competing, contestants may sell sponsor tickets or advertising pages for ad books in addition to having local businesses, friends and family sponsor them with donations. Sponsor tickets can range in price from $1 to $10 and are entered in raffle drawings for cash prizes.
Parents of children are sometimes criticized for entering their children in pageants. For instance, Shelby Colene Pannell, a sociologist, questions why parents would subject their children to gender socialization because pageants are the perfect setting for the” traditional” type of femininity. These young girls are being exposed to things such as makeup and spray tans at a very young age, making these families a target for criticism.
Families on TLC’s hit television series Toddlers & Tiaras are especially criticized for negatively influencing their children that their physical appearance will score them attention and prizes. The show first aired in 2009 and follows the child participants and their parents as they prepare for the upcoming beauty pageant of the weekend. The show is non-narrated to avoid showing opinion and has sparked heavy controversy in the last few years, due to actions including allowing a child to smoke a fake cigarette during the talent portion of the competition, forcing a child to wear fake breasts, a parent who allowed her child to dress like a prostitute in the “outfit of choice” category, feeding a child “pageant crack,” a mixture of sugar and high-calorie sweeteners to provide the necessary energy needed to perform well on the runway, and waxing/threading a child’s facial and body hair to give them a glowing appearance on stage.
Children who compete in pageants are used to being in a public spotlight. It's their job to cooperate and look pretty. In the pageant world, being past a certain weight isn't considered attractive. For this reason, many teens in the pageant world may develop eating disorders such as anorexia. They purposely starve themselves in order to stay at the "appropriate" weight in order to win. Many times glam beauty pageants require young girls to wear tightly fitted dresses, so extra stress is put on young girls to stay fit.
Commodification of Children
Critics of child beauty pageants say the pageants promote children as products. Some describe it as a deal. Parents spend money on clothing, hair, makeup, and accessories in return for a cash prize.
Besides the laws that regulate child education, pageants are a relatively ungoverned program. Child contestants are not considered "working", so pageants are exempt from federal child labor laws. Pageants also have different rules, so it becomes hard to set a law that will cover every pageant.
Lindsay Lieberman, the author of “Protecting Pageant Princesses: A Call for Statutory Regulation of Child Beauty Pageants” argues that there should be regulations on how child beauty pageants are run because the effects on children can be negative and damaging. In her article, Lieberman touches upon points that concern the lifestyles that children who compete in pageants have going on while competing such as stress and anxiety as well as problems they will have later on in the future such as depression, lowered self-esteem, and battling eating disorders.
Study of 2005
In a study published in 2005, eleven women who had competed in beauty pageants as children were compared to a control group of eleven women who had not competed. They were compared in different areas, such as BMI, age and overall body satisfaction. In general, this limited study found that those who competed in beauty pageants as children were more dissatisfied with their bodies, and had greater impulse dysregulation and trust issues than those who did not participate, but showed no significant differences in measures of bulimia, body perception, depression, or self-esteem. The authors acknowledged their small sample size reduced the conclusiveness of their study.
While the nature of child pageants is not inherently sexual, certain types of pageants create an atmosphere in which wearing heavy makeup to emphasize full lips, long eyelashes, and flushed cheeks, high heels to emulate adult women, provocative dance steps, flirtatious poses or facial expressions, and revealing "evening gowns" is not only preferred but expected if a child is to take home the ultimate prize.
"When you have them looking older, for a lot of people that means looking sexier. I don't think it's a great idea for girls at that age to be focused so much on their sexuality," Syd Brown, a child and adolescent psychologist practicing in Maryland told ABC News. "If you're telling a 6-year-old to act like a 16-year-old, you're telling her to be seductive and to be sexy."
Regardless of the criticism, parents still defend their reasons for letting their young children participate in these pageants. Hillary Levy, an undergraduate researcher at Harvard University, found that many parents felt that their children, even males, were able to gain poise and confidence in front of a group. Even parents of children with birth defects felt as though it was not a negative experience but instead a way for their children to interact with others and not feel as if they were different.
There are indeed many parents who believe that beauty pageants teach their children to always perform their very best and boost their self-esteem. One mother of a two-year-old participant on Toddlers & Tiaras claimed “‘It’s just building that confidence early so she doesn’t have to hide away and she can achieve things she wants to achieve without being shy." She acknowledges that gaining this self-confidence at a young age will benefit her child in the long run by helping her open up to people more easily and rid her of her shyness. "I was always involved in the baseball, the football, the basketball, the dance and now my kids are grown," said parent Joy Clark. "To me this is the same thing, it's a sport we travel to. We teach her, she practices, and you win prizes. It's just the same. It's just a sport." These parents believe that a pageant should not be viewed as anything other than another extra-curricular activity because it teaches children basic life values such as self-confidence, sportsmanship, determination, and leadership that any other sport or activity outside of school would do, and what matters is if a child is raised in a healthy environment surrounded by good people and good morals.
- Toddlers & Tiaras - reality television series (TLC, 2009–present)
- Here Comes Honey Boo Boo - reality television series (TLC, 2012–present)
- Child model
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