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It’s 3:30 p.m. and Britney Campbell is returning home from school. While the rest of the neighborhood kids are changing into their play clothes or grabbing an afternoon snack, Britney is filling a plastic bag with ice in preparation for her bimonthly Botox injections. Britney is 8-years-old, and her mother has been administering the injections in her San Francisco home since she entered her daughter into the pageant circuit more than a year ago. The mother, Kerry Campbell, was asked by ABC’s Good Morning America why she feels this procedure is necessary and she responded, “Pageants mothers were just telling me about the lines on her face and how, you know a lot of the moms there, they’re giving their kids Botox. And it’s pretty much like the thing. I’m not the only one that does it” (Moss 7) Instances such as these are an outgrowth of that apotheosis of stage mother narcissism and child exploitation known as child beauty pageants. These shameless exhibitions treat small girls (and some boys) as if they were highly groomed pedigree dogs at a kennel show instead of children. Many parents enter their children in beauty pageants under the false notation that their child will be rewarded with confidence and self esteem, however, today’s pageants often foster poor body image, force children to mature at a rapid pace, and contribute to the sexualization of young girls. In order to understand the effects of child pageants, one must understand where they originated. Beauty pageants were developed in 1921 by an Atlantic City hotel owner, as a marketing tool to coerce city's tourists to remain in town longer. A local news reporter started the infamous term, still used today by saying, "lets call her 'Miss America!" Pageants were introduced into the lives of Americans and became a major event, although they were discontinued from 1929-1932 due to the Great Depression. Because of the flourishing popularity of pageants, in 1960, a Little Miss America was started for parents who wanted their children in beauty pageants (Giroux 31). What was once a single national child pageant, has now grown into a large circuit with more than 3,000 pageants and 250,000 children participating in them a year. In Universal Royalty pageant, the country's largest child beauty pageant, there are sixty contestants from the age of zero to thirty years old, all divided into different age groups. As soon as the child can sit up on their own, they can enter the pageant (universalroyalty.com). However, the process these children are put through in order to prepare for such a contest is grueling. On pageant days, pageant beauties must wake up with the sun and begin the process of getting transformed into living dolls. TLC’s hit show, “Toddlers and Tiaras,” shows 3-year-old girls donning hair extensions so heavy they have hold their heads up with their hands, choking as they are layered in multiple coats of spray tan, sitting through hours of makeup that is only seen on the likes of strippers, and biting down on wax molds in order to be fitted for “flippers,” fake teeth. If child abuse is defined as exploitation of a child, are these parents exploiting their child beauties?
The pageant industry seems to hide behind the illusion that beauty pageants instill self esteem, however, although these children look confident when they are all dolled up one must wonder how deep does that really go if it's built on such an ephemeral notion. When a parent puts so much emphasis on getting every detail of their child’s physical appearance perfect, it is bound to give young girls the signal that it's acceptable to value themselves along a particular, superficial dimension. William Pinsof, a clinical psychologist and president of the Family Institute at Northwestern University said, "Being a little Barbie doll says your body has to be a certain way and your hair has to be a certain way. In girls particularly, this can unleash a whole complex of destructive self-experiences that can lead to eating disorders and all kinds of body distortions in terms of body image." (Giroux 44) The rise of interest child beauty pageants can also be linked to an increasingly pronounced cultural trend to treat young children as mini adults. Clothing stores have been criticized in the past for selling padded bras and pole-dancing kits aimed at children, while the popularity of scantily clad female bands such as the Pussycat Dolls among pre-teenagers would seem to suggest that girls are growing up far more quickly than they used to. In regards to child pageants, a lot of this premature maturation can be blamed on the parents. The majority of the scenes on “Toddlers and Tiaras” are of children kicking, crying and resisting their mothers who are forcing them to participate in the pageants. When the cameras cut to the next scene, the child is saying they enjoy pageants, despite their blatant distain while the pageants are in session.
"No child is entirely autonomous. If a child says 'This is what I want to do,' it's generally not 100 miles away from what the parent wants. It's relational decision-making rather than a strong-willed child making decisions totally on their own. These pageants are not for children to entertain other children. What one sees here is adult fantasies fuelling this thing. It's for adults,” said Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent and author of Paranoid Parenting (Goodyear-Brown 19).
In addition to these children’s deteriorating confidence and early maturation, pageants sexualize young girls and are a goldmine for pedophiles looking for a fix. Such instances can be applied to the murder of six-year-old child beauty queen JonBenet Ramsey, who was found sexually abused and garrotted in the basement of her family's home in Boulder, Colorado. Although the case is still unsolved, it is believed that her murderer regularly attended her beauty pageants. (Kibbey 691) But can anyone really be surprised that child beauty pageants pander to and attract perverts and pedophiles? Isn’t that the audience those pageants are purposefully serving? Parents bend time and strangle circumstance in order to teach a child how to moisten lips, flirt with judges and convey a sexuality that, beyond the beauty pageant stage, would cause great alarm in those vested in providing for the public welfare of children. I believe that mature men and women do not take an interest in the overt sexualization of children idealized as adults. Some would argue that pedophiles have been with us long before child pageants, however, access to the object of their affection is made simpler with these parades of children pretending to be something they are not — and that plays directly into the perversion of the fantasy.
The government protects juvenile's health from smoking and drinking and provides education and safety, however, there is no regulations stopping parents from dressing their children up as prosti-tots. Like many women, I’ve got a drawer full of Barbies and a chest full of costumes from my childhood, along with the belief that little girls have the right to play at starlet or princess to their hearts’ desire. Yet it should be their heart, their desire, that calls the shots, and even then it should be in moderation.
Giroux, Henry. "Nymphet Fantasies: Child Beauty Pageants and the Politics of Innocence." Duke University Press 11 Dec. 1998, 57 ed., sec. Social Text: 31. Print.
Goodyear-Brown, Paris. Handbook of Child Sexual Abuse:Identification, Assessment, and Treatment. Boston: Wiley, 2004. Print.
Hill, Annette. "Universal Royalty Beauty PageantÃ‚Â® Child, Baby, TeenÂ Pageants." Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant‚® Child, Baby, Teen Pageants. Silver Scope Web Design, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2011. <http://www.universalroyalty.com>.
Kibbey, Ann. "Trial by Media: DNA and Beauty Pageant Evidence in the Ramsey Murder Case." New York Law School Law Review 43.18 (1999): 691-711. Print.
Moss, Hilary. "Kerry Campbell, Mom Who Gives 8-Year-Old Botox, Being Investigated By Child Welfare Services." Huffington Post [Chicago] 13 May 2011, 43 ed., sec. 4a: 7. The Internet Website. Web. 20 Sept. 2011. "Rumble in the Jungle/55." Toddlers & Tiaras. TLC. 10 Aug. 2011. Television.