With the development of reality shows such as Toddlers and Tiaras, children (and their parents) who enter beauty pageants have been thrust under the microscope like never before. The shows offer us a glimpse of pageant moms at their worst and shows children being forced into makeup and heels and dragged onstage all but kicking and screaming. Some of these shows certainly paint child beauty pageants in a bad light. The question, however, is whether these pageants are really bad for young children.
As with anything in life, the issue of child beauty pageants isn’t quite black and white. For some kids, participation in these pageants is wholly a matter of choice. Some kids actually enjoy getting all dressed up and love walking onstage in front of an adoring crowd. More importantly, some kids are able to enjoy the beauty pageant and still walk offstage without feeling superior to the girls who did not win. These girls learn showmanship, poise, and grace from their various wins and defeats, and the whole experience can be character building.
On the opposite side of the coin, however, you have children who are forced into beauty pageants by mothers trying to act out their own unfulfilled dreams. These children quickly learn that winning their parent’s love and approval is based solely on the results they get at these competitions. If they have low self-esteem, they may decide that they are not beautiful if they do not win and make them jump to the conclusion that maybe if they were prettier, Mommy would love them more. If they are entered in shows regularly over a number of years, their schoolwork and friendships with other children may suffer as homework-time is sacrificed for trips to the hairdresser and endless catwalk rehearsals. It can also convince them that beauty is a quality that should be used to judge the worthiness of others. To children raised to see the world in this light, a long run of losses can be literally spirit-breaking.
While there is no cut and dry answer, the simplest answer is that beauty pageants can be a healthy adventure for children, but only if they are willing participants and are given the guidance required to know that it is only a show for the entertainment of others, and that outer beauty has no real bearing on what makes us who we are.