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Since my last post on “Toddlers & Tiaras” I’ve got a lot of response, both positive and negative comments. I’ve realized that even though I mean what I stated in my last post, I don’t know enough of the pageant world to defend my opinions to a larger audience. So, I decided to do some research. This is what I found out…

Beauty pageants became part of the American society in the 1920’s. Child beauty pageants began in the 1960’s. Child beauty pageants consist of modelling sportswear, evening attire, dance and talent etc. The children are judged based on individuality in looks, capability, poise, perfection and confidence. The judges call it, “the complete package”.  There are glitz pageants, natural pageants, semi-glitz pageants, face pageants, online pageants, online photo contests, scholarship pageants, and coed pageants. Each type of pageant has its own rules and guidelines. And then there are the unwritten rules that you must know in order to be successful. 

Beauty pageants originated as a marketing tool in 1921 by an Atlantic City hotel owner who wanted the city’s tourists to remain in town longer. A local news reporter started the infamous term, still used today by saying, “let’s 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.

As the years progressed, pageants served as political, educational and entertaining events. Pageants offered scholarships and helped beneficial programs. Marking a racial breakthrough, in 1983 Vanessa Williams becomes the first African-American titled Miss America. In 1994 the first handicapped woman wins the title of Miss America. The pageantry world helps introduce a face to the faceless troubles of racism, handicaps and illnesses.

Pageants are usually operated by for-profit organizations that produce a local, state or national contest that appeal to many age groups for different reasons. Some mothers lie about their child’s age so the child can appear more mature and poised for that age group; now some pageants require birth certificates along with the entry forms to validate age. Beauty pageants are one of the fastest growing businesses in America. The prizes differ depending on the size of the contest; radios, bicycles, grants, cars, cash awards, trophies and tiaras are some examples.

There is a fee required in entering a pageant, which may include entry, rental fees, awards, administrative costs and company profits. Participants have other expenses like clothing, hair, make-up and sometimes hiring a make-up artist, travel, food and lodging.

Individual beauty pageants set their own guidelines for their participants, since they are exempt from the federal child labour laws (Fair Labour standards Act, 1938). Child pageant contestants are not considered to be “working” children although they receive money and prizes for their performances and practice for hours per week to achieve those goals.

In Universal Royalty pageant, the country’s largest child beauty pageant, all contestants receive an award for participating. 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 her/his own she or he can enter the pageant.

A competition is held usually every few weeks. There is a minimum cost of $545 to enter the pageant, which covers basic entry fees. Another $395 is needed for the maximum options of this pageant. The average cost of the pageant is about $655 which includes the formal wear, sportswear and dance. The average cost does not include travel, hotel and food, which can be up to an extra two hundred dollars. According to several stage mothers participating in Universal Royalty, dresses for sports and formal wear can cost up to $12,000 with a minimum of $1500. The grand supreme winner receives one thousand dollars in cash, ten-inch crystal crown, six-foot trophy, supreme entry paid in full to nationals, tote bag, satin rhinestone banner, teddy bear, bouquet of long stem red roses, gifts, video of the pageant, and photo on advertisement of beauty pageant. The participants are also required to bring gifts to the winning king and queen. Different beauty pageants offer optional competitions inside the pageant, like decorating your door, dad competition and talent. In Universal Royalty, family values are enforced. Therefore, the dad competition is free of charge and there is a fifty-dollar award and a plaque for the winner. Based on the competition, the child is judged differently, points are scored in each domain of the pageant, and the most overall points earn the participant the grand supreme prize. Prizes for overall photogenic are prejudged from photos sent before the pageant. Each part of the competition has an entry fee to participate.

Annette Hill is the director of Universal Royalty, she believes in an organized and professional competition. Annette was a former child pageant competitor, and also had her daughters participate. When she decided to open a pageant of her own, she wanted something different. She enforces family values by making a dad competition, which includes the fathers in the competition as well.

Usually the mothers are the controlling authority over the competitors. The inexperienced mothers seem more pleased with any award the child receives at the pageant and less critical of the child’s mistakes on stage contrary to the experienced moms who seem more disappointed than their child to receive a lower-classed award than imagined. “There is no chance for a mistake”, as said by Annette Hill on her own pageant.

Preparing for the pageant requires time and patience, hair lasting around an hour and forty-five minutes, make-up around an hour. Different performances for every pageant require some participants to practice for about seven hours a week.

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.” Traveling, stress and competition are everyday aspects of an adult’s life, an average day of an adult requires at least these three aspects to make it to lunch hour, but at the age of eight, stress about body ideals, modelling, and trophies should not come into existence. Since there are no set rules concerning promoters, organizers and participants, pageants are neglected by laws governing them. Organizers want to earn money and are not concerned with the need to protect their participants, and they don’t.

According to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment and Adoption Reform Act, child abuse is defined as, “the physical or mental injury, sexual abuse or exploitation of a child under circumstances which indicate the child’s health or welfare is harmed or threatened.” Most stage mothers claim that their child wanted to enter the pageant on her own. Does an eight-year-old girl know what is best for her? In 1996 seven-year-old Jessica Duboff died when her parents allowed her to fly a plane across the country because she liked it. Should parents rely on their children to know what is best for them?

Child abuse is defined as exploitation of a child, are these parents exploiting their child beauties? On a study done by Hillary Levey who researched child beauty pageants of the two to six age group for the Harvard University Gazette, she interviewed forty-one pageant mothers who participate in an average of five pageants per year. Levey concluded that mothers of lower-income and education enter their children in pageants because they want their children to learn the proper skills necessary to move up the social scale. One stage mother said, “I want my child to be aware that there’s going to be somebody better than her. It’s a hard thing to learn, it was for me, and I want her to start early.” Parents with higher incomes and education beyond high school often justify pageants by explaining that competition is essential for their children to become successful. According to Levey, the upper class mothers want their daughters to become lawyers, doctors or to have professional careers.

The families we follow in the TLC program “Toddlers & Tiaras” take their children to glitz pageants. Laws and regulations are needed for this arena; organizers, and worst of all, parents are manipulating innocent kids. Mothers take their kids and live vicariously through them. In order to improve the inadequacy of pageant regulation, every state should pass the bonding law, which states that a deposit is required for new promoters to assert the security of the participants. This only exists in a few states. There should be guidelines for the hours of work on stage, practice and travel. Organizers should be required to attain a certificate allowing them to work with children. Make-up and hair should be limited as to not enforce sexuality in such a young age.

Beauty pageants are one of the fastest growing industries in the United States. The government should regulate such an extensive enterprise, to provide safety, especially since it deals with children. The government protects the juvenile’s health from smoking and drinking and provides education and safety. Children have rights and laws guarding them against manipulative adults, aren’t these pageants a marketing tool aimed at children? JonBenét Ramsey’s death influenced the public to believe that all pageants promote sexuality and mistreatment, but there are always two sides to every story. Throughout this research, pageants proved to be both a negative and positive influence depending on their surroundings. Pageants that regulate make-up usage, sexuality and competition are recognized to be positive experiences for children. For example, Beatriz Gill a child pageant director and a former child participant, does not allow make-up or snug costumes in her pageants. Beatriz is one of many that have a positive outlook on pageants; she believes that pageants helped her become confident and self-assured. On the other hand, many of the pageants do allow excessive make-up, hair and clothing. These are the pageants that are exposed in the program “Toddlers & Tiaras” and are the grim examples of an industry that makes money and explore children.

The front page of People magazine that asked if Toddlers & Tiaras had gone to far, started my writing about childrens beauty pageants. Trough out this research I’ve found that my opinion stays. I believe that pageants have a long road before achieving a safe environment for children without introducing them to competition, sexuality and disappointment too early in life.