Is Emotional Damage Worth the Tiara?
She struts down the runway, every glamorous piece in its place. Her feet are jammed into glittered high heels, toes overlapping one another, each painted an eye-catching hot pink. The frilly dress bounces with each movement, glimmering in the glow of the multi-colored ceiling lights. Hands placed sassily on her hips, she contorts her body in just the right way, with each steady step on the runway beneath her. The judges are clearly impressed. Then, after the judges place the impressively large crown on her head, she rides with her mother to get ice cream, buckled into her car seat in the backseat. Though the girl may seem to be living a dream, child beauty pageants offer more harm than they do benefits. Participation in child beauty pageant culture is detrimental to children’s emotional health.
Only a select few of a contest’s entrants will go home with a prize. While the winners feel a surge of confidence and a great sense of pride in their accomplishments, hundreds of other contestants can take losing as a personal offense. The reality is that “[a] grown-up looked [them] over and decided [they] weren't pretty or cute or charming enough to win. Sorry, dear. Time to go home now” (Meredith). Being judged in such a scrutinizing manner only to then go home empty-handed can instantly crush a child’s confidence. Pageant participants can and will face dozens of rejections in their beauty contest career; nobody can be a winner every time. Not only is it upsetting to lose, but the prospect of not being good enough can haunt any person, regardless of age. No child should have to feel insecure about their appearance, especially not at the young ages some contestants begin to enter the world of pageantry.
Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, beauty pageants objectify and sexualize children from a very young age. The judges teach them to equate self-worth with beauty. “Cries of ‘how young is too young’ to model, be ‘sexy’ etc. have ignited controversy about early sexualization of children” (Cartwright). When the only thing that anyone cares about is superficiality, the world becomes a shallower place. Children are looked at and judged with no consideration to their feelings. Ireland’s Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald stated that beauty pageants are the "theft of childhood, and for the theft of childhood no form of restorative justice exists" (O’Halloran).
While beauty pageants may instill negative morals, children who participate in many pageants can learn from their past mistakes, come to terms with losing, and gain confidence in the process. Lana Henry, once a pageant participant, and now a mother of a contestant, reflects on her own experience with pageants, saying, “[b]ut I think my biggest passion lies in the fact that pageants have really made me who I am today. They have given me an opportunity to become a great speaker … to meet people I would never have met, to travel” (O’Neill). Rejection is hard to face, especially for younger children, and they might want to give up after losing once. Other contestants will focus, almost obsessively, solely on how they present themselves, and only find joy in their winnings. Henry’s statements cannot be applied to every pageant entrant because not everyone is concentrated on the same thing, and the majority of pageant-goers are not the humblest of people. They tend to rank superficiality above all else.
Hence, beauty pageants have more of a negative impact than they do positive. While there are benefits to pageantry, there is a harsh amount of oversexualization and objectification of children. Those who compete in beauty contests risk being emotionally damaged, but for what? A sum of money and a tiara that’s half their weight?
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O'Halloran, Marie. "Child Beauty Pageants 'Steal Childhood'." Irish Times. 06 Mar. 2014: 8.
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O'Neill, Jennifer. "Inside the Ups and Downs of Raising a Child Beauty Queen: 'I Created a
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