This guest post was contributed by high school senior Charlotte W. She participated in Athena’s Path™ camp in middle school, and was so inspired by the lesson on Women and Girls in the Media, she decided to focus on that for her senior exit project.
I’ll admit it. I am a reality TV junkie. From Keeping Up with the Kardashians, to Here Comes Honey Booboo, I watch them all. It’s a guilty pleasure. One of my favorite shows is Toddlers and Tiaras.
In case you are unfamiliar with the show, it is essentially girls, as young as a few weeks old, competing in beauty pageants. The show takes the viewer behind the scenes to witness the primping, practicing, and of course, the crying that go into preparing for a pageant. While the show never fails to entertain me, it also never fails to make me sad. Not because a little girl doesn’t win the big title. Because the parents who put their kids in pageants have no idea the kind of psychological damage they are inflicting on their children to put them in this hobby.
The little girls who grow up in the pageant world strive for nothing less than perfection. And unfortunately, no matter how much these children practice, or how much make-up they put on, they will never be perfect. What an awful burden to put on a child. At a young age, these girls are taught that they are not good enough to win without a fake tan, fake eyelashes, fake teeth, and fake hair. And even after they have been “beautified”, the glitz pictures are then photo-shopped past recognition. These children have to grow up with the impression that their appearance is not good unless it is drastically altered. When a girl grows up knowing her appearance is constantly being scrutinized, she begins to look for validation through her appearance, rather than through her thoughts or ideas. This is an extremely unhealthy way for a girl to develop, because eventually the girls will be getting attention from the wrong people.
Another main problem children’s beauty pageants can have is the sexualization of young girls. When a 3 year old is told that the only way she will win is if she shakes her booty and wears an itsy-bitsy bikini, she grows up with the wrong idea about how to be a winner. No matter how harmless the intent is, dressing a young child up to look like they are older and “sexier” can do serious damage during the development of these children. At such a young age, how would the kids know when it’s time to turn off their “pageant mode?” How are the kids supposed to know what is appropriate and not? Can encouraging these children to be sexual distort morals later on? Is it ever okay to dress a three-year-old up as a hooker (yes, a parent did do this…)?
Some children love to be on stage and perform. I say, put them in dance or theatre, not a beauty pageant. Parents, while everyone thinks their child is a star, it’s time to take a step back and reassess what is really in the child’s best interest.