Sexualization in child beauty pageants

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A child beauty pageant is a beauty contest where contestants are usually under 16 years of age. There does not appear to be reliable statistics about the number of these pageants held each year around the world. They vary in style, and categories may include a talent segment as well as costume and theme wear. Contestants often wear makeup, fake teeth, false eyelashes, lipstick, elaborate hairstyles with hair extensions, and specially designed, sometimes provocative, outfits. Spray tanning and waxing are also common.[1][2] Contestants compete for prizes and are judged on the way they look and how they act on stage, similar to the judgment criteria in adult beauty pageants. The way that the children look is clearly artificial and often detracts from their natural appearances. Many parents attribute confidence-building as one of the reasons they enter their children in beauty pageants, but critics argue that the negative effects of beauty pageantry, especially the sexualization of young children, outweigh the positive intentions.

Contestants in a child beauty pageant


There are several components to sexualization that set it apart from healthy sexuality. Sexualization occurs when a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics.[3] A report by the American Psychological Association more specifically cites sexuality that is imposed on someone, rather than undertaken by choice, as evidence of sexualization.[4] In the United States, legal adulthood and ability to give consent typically does not come until age 18,[citation needed] yet in child beauty pageants, the children's consenting parents permit them to participate, pay their entry fees, dress them, and train them to perform on stage in front of judges and an audience.

In preparation for these beauty pageants, children have their appearances altered by costumes, makeup, and other products to the point that they resemble dolls, which objectifies them at a very young age.[5] The child perceives that sexuality is not only encouraged but can be a means to an end.[6] The child pageant industry involves thousands of contestants and $5 billion a year in revenue,[7] and television networks air in-demand shows like Toddlers & Tiaras and Little Miss Perfect. The viewership implies that many adults not only condone these activities but also the view of children as sexual objects.[6]

Bikini contests of Minors[edit]

Miss Tanguita, which translates as "Miss Child Bikini", is held in Barbosa, Santader, Colombia as annual part of the "del Rio Suarez" Festival. Activists say that the competition, though legal, abuses the human rights of minors.[8]

Beginning in 2016, the Miss Teen USA pageant removed the swimsuit competition and replaced it with an athleticwear round.[9]

Support for participation[edit]

Despite criticism of child beauty pageants, contestants' parents continue to argue for the positive impact these competitions have on their children's personal development. Supporters often cite self-confidence and poise as attributes that children learn during the pageant process, and still more defend pageants as being similar to other athletic, music, or educational programs. Since young girls like playing dress up and enjoy participating in beauty pageants, they argue, they are positive events.[10] The Pageant Director for the Cities of America preliminary pageant system echoes these sentiments and argues that pageants are good for girls—they develop self-confidence by actively trying to be a part of something, they compete with others through a fair process, and they enjoy meeting others with similar interests.[11] Being able to communicate and network with others is an important skill that children learn at a young age when participating in beauty pageants. Through pageants, children also learn how to communicate with adults.[12]

One pageant mother insists that pageants have helped her daughter "gain poise, confidence, showmanship, discipline and grace."[13] This may be true for some contestants, as the child's attitude typically derives from the parent. When the parents embrace a positive attitude, the children will follow. In these cases, pageants can teach children how to be gracious winners and good losers. They will learn the aspects of rules, and fair play. Thus, pageants teach children how to be calm, cool, and collected in front of crowds. Supporters believe participants learn tenacity when they fail and must move on, and they practice arduously trying to achieve something which proves even more valuable when they are successful.[12]

From some child contestants' perspectives, pageants are fun and a way to make new friends, and they are able to feel good about their friends winning.[10]

Criticism of sexualization in child pageants[edit]

One critic debunks these claims by questioning the age-appropriateness of these pageants and whether they achieve any positive outcomes or not. After all, playing dress-up does not result in one winner and many losers, and children may enjoy appeasing parents rather than the activity itself.[6] A writer for the New York Times, criticized child beauty pageants because participants and viewers impose adulthood on children while still expecting them to radiate innocence.[14]

As Vernon R. Wiehe, professor in the University of Kentucky College of Social Work, states, "sexualization occurs through little girls wearing adult women's clothing in diminutive sizes, the use of makeup which often is applied by makeup consultants, spray tanning the body, the dying of hair and the use of hair extensions, and assuming provocative postures more appropriate for adult models".[6] Many view the child's appearance as obscene or inappropriate.

They are dressed in revealing clothes or evening gowns, and some children wear high heels. Children are in “Child Beauty Pageants” only because of their age. These children are judged along the same criteria as an adult pageant woman would be judged on. Stated by Laura Pappano, in a New York Times featuring child pageants, "beauty pageants in particular blur the lines between what is cute and what is sensual.[14] "This is not about cutest baby contests, which most people would see as harmless enough, but rather about adult-like competitions featuring kids pretending to be sexy adults".[15]

Carleton Kendrick, a family therapist out of Boston says, "At its core, [pageants are] teaching girls that the best thing [they] can do, and the most attention they can get is to view [themselves] as an assemblage of body parts. And that you will focus on drawing attention to those body parts sets them up for all manner of problems in their lives — self-esteem, eating disorders, relationships they enter into".[16]

Consequences of child sexualization[edit]

In reports of children being sexually abused research shows that the sexualization of children is a contributing factor to their abuse.[6] Also, if the child is winning constantly in a competition that is based primarily on her looks, she is more likely to develop psychological issues later on in life, such as depression, low self-esteem, and eating disorders.[17] There is also a link to lowered sexual efficacy and contraceptive use later in life.

"'Some critics contend that the child beauty pageant culture fails to acknowledge that "sexualized images of little girls may have dangerous implications in a world where 450,000 American children were reported as victims of sexual abuse in 1993."[18]

As Lucia Grosaru states, in her Everyday Psychology article, “contests promote physical beauty as a main value, complimented of course by the “special talent” and “warm hearts”. A child, especially a female that is going to pay so much attention to her looks and that knows she is being assessed for it, is very prone to develop eating disorders, such as anorexia or bulimia”.[19]

Hundreds and thousands of dollars are spent on costumes, cosmetics, and even beauty consultants. Some question what does, in fact, happen to a child's self-esteem if she loses the pageant after her parents have spent so much money on it.[6]

Martina M. Cartwright, an adjunct professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Arizona, states in her article on child beauty pageants, “many experts agree that participation in activities that focus on physical appearance at an early age can influence teen and/or adult self-esteem, body image and self-worth. Issues with self-identity after a child "retires" from the pageant scene in her teens are not uncommon. Struggles with perfection, dieting, eating disorders and body image can take their toll in adulthood”.[20] Mothers are usually involved in their child's participation in pageants, so there's a lot of information regarding their outlook on the contests. Social worker Mark Sichel believes that many mothers "push their daughters into pageants because of their own low self-esteem, or as compensation for a perceived lack of attention and admiration in their own lives". As a result of these mother's constant pushing, many of these young girls feel as if they let their mothers down by losing.[21] To pull from a fathers point of view, an internet blog, "The Father Factor", has an interesting perspective on the topic of child beauty pageants. One father writes, "the mothers of the young pageant contestants all push their girls, some young as two, to emotional and physical limits. They parade the little girls around in makeup, big hairdos, and even bathing suits...I don’t see how a beauty pageant, especially at such young ages, promotes anything other than vanity."[22] In France, after a 10-year-old girl was featured on the cover of Vogue Paris in an inappropriate outfit- not fit for a child, lawmakers banned child beauty pageants all together.[22]

So much effort and time goes into the preparation for a pageant. Children must constantly be practicing their routines, and creating their pageant look, so they have limited time to play. Through play itself, children develop skills they use the rest of their lives.[6]


  1. ^ "16 Horrifying Child Beauty Pageant Pictures". Retrieved 10 January 2017. 
  2. ^ "Ugly truth about beauty pageants". Retrieved 10 January 2017. 
  3. ^ Oppliger, Patrice (2008). Girls gone skank: the sexualization of girls in American culture. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland and Company Inc., Publishers. pp. 1–2. ISBN 9780786435227. 
  4. ^ "Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls". 
  5. ^ Bartlett, Myke (2008). "Sex Sells: Child Sexualization and the Media". Screen Education. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Vernon, Wiehe. "Nothing Pretty in Child Pageants". Retrieved 18 April 2012. 
  7. ^ Giroux, Henry A. "Child Beauty Pageants: A Scene From the "Other America"". Truthout. Retrieved 10 April 2013. 
  8. ^ Raya Desmawanto Nainggolan (January 14, 2015). "Wah, Kontes Ratu Bikini Anak-anak Digelar di Negara Ini". 
  9. ^ "First Look! See What Miss Teen USA Contestants Will Wear Instead of Bikinis on Total Divas". Retrieved 2017-09-16. 
  10. ^ a b Inbar, Michael. "Parents defend Putting their kids in beauty pageants". Today Parenting. Retrieved 23 April 2012. 
  11. ^ "Pageantry With Purpose". Retrieved 18 April 2012.  |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  12. ^ a b "Benefits of Child Beauty Pageants". Kids Formal. Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  13. ^ "Why Beauty Pageants Are Good For Girls". Shine from Yahoo. Retrieved 18 April 2012. 
  14. ^ a b De Witt, Karen. "Never Too Young to Be Perfect". The New York Times. Retrieved 27 April 2012.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Karen" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  15. ^ Korn, Neer. "Nanny state ok when it comes to kids and sex". Retrieved 27 April 2012. 
  16. ^ Morgan, Mandy. "Toddlers and Tears: The Sexualization of Young Girls". Retrieved 6 Sep 2013. 
  17. ^ APA Task Force (2010). Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association. OCLC 123130352.  Pdf.
  18. ^ Giroux, Henry. "Child Beauty Pageants and the Politics of Innocence." Nymphatic Fantasies' 16 (1998). Print.
  19. ^ Grosaru, Lucia. severe-psychological-turmoils/ "Toddlers and Children Beauty Pageants- Risk Factors for Severe Psychological Turmoils" Check |url= value (help). Psychology Corner. Retrieved 27 Feb 2012. 
  20. ^ Cartwright, Martina. "Child Beauty Pageants: What Are We Teaching Our Girls?". Psychology Today. Retrieved 18 April 2012. 
  21. ^ Wolfe, Lucy. "Darling Divas Or Damaged Daughters? The Dark Side Of Child Beauty Pageants And An Administrative Law Solution". Tulane Law Review. Retrieved 8 Oct 2013. 
  22. ^ a b Chandler, D.L. "No Child Beauty Pageants For My Daughter Please". Retrieved 23 April 2012. 

See also[edit]