In the Western society, it has long been argued that child beauty pageant (CBP) is perversive because of its emphasis on sexualising innocent children. Child pageant’s parents tend to be the objects of social criticism and condemnation because they are in a position to encourage and authorise the CBP ideologies. Sarah Burge from the United Kingdom, who has dramatically ‘made over’ her seven-year-old daughter Poppy, and taken her to compete at the Darling Dolls of American Contest 2012, will be the object of study. The aim of this essay is to provide an assessment of Sarah as a child pageant’s mother, analyse and discuss whether her motivations and behaviours constitute the criteria for Factitious Disorder by Proxy (FDP). Although atypical, it is argued that Sarah’s behaviours and motivations have met the majority of the FDP criteria, including fabricating pre-pubertal maturity in Poppy and assuming a sick role in Poppy as sexually inadequate by proxy. In addition, this essay will critically analyse whether Sarah’s behaviours were encouraged by a set of intangible motivations, such as her illogical or even pathological demand for power, control, and excitement. Since FDP assessment takes both sociological and psychodynamic perspectives into consideration, Sarah’s FDP behaviours have implication for her coping with patriarchal suppression and trauma at both social and familial levels.
Factitious Disorder by Proxy and child beauty pageant
Although atypical, characteristics of Factitious Disorder by Proxy (FDP) suggest its relation to that of a child beauty pageant (CBP). FDP is also known as Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (Rosenberg, 1987) and Induced Illness by Carers (Parrish & Perman, 2004). FDP usually involves a caregiver, almost always the mother, who deliberately induces physical or psychological symptoms in her child by proxy (Franzini & Grossberg, 1995, APA, 2000). Inevitably, FDP does not only constitute a mental disorder in the perpetrator, but also appears as child abuse through intentional victimisation. On the other hand, CBP is a competition where parents produce children as objects of “public fascination” (Giroux, 1998, p. 37). Typically, it is a place where mothers of child pageant ‘convert’ their innocent daughters into attractive and mature sexual beings. The common ground between a FDP perpetrator and a child pageant’s parent is also that both their behaviours have more or less implication for abusing a child by proxy. Although perpetrator of FDP constitutes a condition whereby the child suffers direct harm through the mother’ actions, the potential psychological consequences of CBP (e.g. premature syndrome, depression, behavioural and emotional dysfunctions) also suggest an indirect form of harm (Heltsley & Calhoun, 2003, Lieberman, 2010). Nonetheless, Lasher and Sheridan (2004) emphasised that the identification of traits congruous with the FDP criteria served only to provoke suspicions, but did not always constitute a profile. The nature of role and the behaviours of child pageant’s mothers may reflect that of a FDP, but this does not automatically mean that they possess this disorder. Diagnosis for FDP is often controversial and complex, involving fundamental dynamics of human behaviours that conventional diagnostic criteria can fail to fully comprehend (Butz, Evans & Webber-Dereszynski, 2009). Therefore, when assessing whether child pageant’s mothers meet the criteria of FDP, both diagnostic criteria and family dynamics need to be analysed. In Sarah’s case, the actual production of illness in Poppy might not be present. However, it is evident that Poppy was a victim of a society where the human bodies were increasingly problematised and medicalised.
The fabrication of maturity
First, it is important to...