If you thought child beauty pageants happened mostly in United States, you may be surprised to know that they are actually quite popular in Canada too. Miss All Canadian Pageant is one of the biggest in the country. As indicated on their website, anyone from 0 to 20+ years old can be registered in their beauty pageant. Self-esteem, confidence and social growth are some of the core values they say children will walk away with after participating in their beauty pageant. So do kids actually benefit from participating in beauty pageants or are there more negative effects associated with this practice?
Child beauty pageants give kids a superficial view on beauty
Based on a short documentary by CBC, ‘natural beauty’ may not be enough for a child to win a beauty pageant. Yes, there are dresses, costumes, and makeup, as we’d expect. But children may also get wigs, spray-tans, and even get their pictures re-touched. The message children may get is that, in order to be liked, they need to be beautiful. But in order to be beautiful enough, they need to accentuate how they naturally look. They are not being taught that all children can be beautiful based on many other reasons other than physical appearance.
Psychology Today points out that any activity focusing on what a child looks like, can have a long-lasting effect on body image once they get to their teens. Issues may be carried even into adulthood. Some may suffer from eating disorders, perfectionism, and depression.
Child beauty pageants teach kids that success is based on looks and how others perceive them
One view on beauty pageants is that they teach children that success (winning a trophy or a crown in this case), is very much related to how they look. Yes, there is a talent portion to the pageant. But they still need to look beautiful while performing. And even showcasing a talent may not truly be what the child is good at. It may be what the parent thinks will win the judges over.
So in the end, the child’s view on success may not even be related to who they are, what they like, or what they are good at. Instead success becomes attainable only when parents and in some cases coaches shape them to their liking.
Children may also internalize the concept of perfectionism. They are trained to perform in a certain way and to not only do their best, but do it perfectly. Not only does this put huge pressure on kids, but it may teach them that whatever they do is not good enough, unless they win.
Child beauty pageants sexualize girls in particular
From the CBC documentary on child beauty pageants linked to above, we can see some parents who choose their girls’ costumes appropriate to their age. However, as some note, the overall trend of these beauty pageants is on portraying sexy rather than cute. So, we end up seeing little girls dressed in skimpy clothing that hardly covers their underdeveloped body. They will then parade like ‘sexy’ super-models. They may even showcase provocative routines during the talent show. According to the American Psychological Association, sexualizing girls can lead to depression, low-self esteem, shame and anxiety, and eating disorders, among others.
As stirred up by the comedian John Oliver, the idea of beauty pageants still being in existence is dated and one of the “weirdest” things on television (as he says it). In his video, he rants with the undertone that we should acknowledge strides feminism has taken in the last couple of decades. Are we still living in a world where we give women points, and have men judge them, based on their physical image?
Admittedly, John Oliver’s other major point in his rant was about the financial management of the Miss America Pageant rewards. But the point in this article is that his talk was about adult pageants. Taking his points and applying them to child pageants could multiply the seriousness of the situation to some skeptics.
In 2013, France banned child beauty pageants. The country also put restrictions on under-weight models, following the pattern of similar rules in Israel and other countries. But for the most part in North America, child beauty pageants are still popular.
When considering whether to enrol children in a beauty pageant, it may be worth thinking about the possible long-term effects mentioned in this article. After all, we are all concerned about the healthy development of our children.