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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Child Beauty Pageants

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In today’s world, there are quite a few things that bother us Americans. One controversial topic at-hand would be child beauty pageants. The article, “Playing at Sexy” written by Peggy Orenstein, goes into detail of the negative effects of showcasing one’s child in a pageant. Hilary Levey takes a different approach to child beauty pageants. She finds them to be just as helpful as children who take after school lessons in her scholarly article, “Pageant Princesses and Math Whizzes.” Both articles take two different takes on the child pageant world. In reality though, pageants can just be as damaging as helpful. Two of the major concerns are the cause of numerous health risks, and the many concerns of sexualizing young girls. Child beauty pageants have been referred to as a sport. Like any other sport, child beauty pageants should be strictly regulated with rules that include the child’s health and well-being.

When it comes to beauty pageants, there can be many significant health risks when preparing for a pageant. The number one health risk reported by Dr. Travis Stork on the show The Doctors is the use of hairspray. A chemical in hairspray, known as phthalates is not good for human inhalation. It is known to be a hormone disrupter which causes many problems. There is a connection between liver cancer and phthalates, Dr. Stork stated (“Should”). There is also a connection between phthalates and reproductive damage. We have to realize that these young children are not only inhaling what is being sprayed onto their own heads, but also what other parents are spraying on their own child’s head around them. This increases the amount of hairspray a child will inhale at a beauty pageant, making their risks for problems higher.

Another health concern Dr. Stork mentions is the problem with wearing elevated, high heels. Little girls who wear or are forced to wear high heels for competition are at risks for lower-back problems and developmental problems for one’s feet. Dana Points reported to CBSNews, “At the age of 5 and on up until 10, 12, the bones are still forming. The print is forming,” she said. “You can get some shortening of the tendons in the heels. So you really don’t want to let them spend more than a little time every week in some kind of heel” (“Should” par 7).

Additionally, some parents force their child to tan, whether it’s in a tanning bed, naturally in the sun, or spray tan. All types of tanning listed above are all harmful. Natural sun-tanning is harmful to young children because it increases the chance of skin cancer, but put them in a tanning booth with UV Ray bulbs and the risk of skin cancer is tremendously increased. The last form of tanning is one depicted many times on TLC’s hit show Toddlers and Tiaras is the spray tan. Spray-tan contains a chemical known as dihydroxyacetone, which can cause skin irritation, hair follicle irritation, and lung irritation if inhaled (“Health”).

Another major negative effect of beauty pageants is the sexualizing of young girls. Orenstein explains in her article, “That sexualizing little girls — whether through images, music or play — actually undermines healthy sexuality rather than promoting it. These young girls are being depicted as sexy.” I did some research on Toddlers and Tiaras. One contestant, Alana Thompson, received her own show, known as Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. In an episode on her show, she is trying on wigs and asks, “Do I look sexy?” This is a perfect example on how we can see the media and pageants influencing these young contestants to be something they shouldn’t be. Sexy.

One mother who was on the Toddlers and Tiaras dressed her 3 year old daughter as the hooker Julia Roberts played in Pretty Woman. Levey found it is the mother who is “… responsible for how her child looks and performs on stage” (par. 19). The girl’s mother told Fox News, “I love living vicariously through my 3-year-old daughter Paisley.” Levey discusses mother’s vicariousness, “CBP mothers get vicarious satisfaction from the success of their children and sometimes compensate for their own thwarted dreams by pinning their hopes on their children’s success” (Levey par. 72) Paisley has competed in over 60 pageants, but it was definitely the ‘Pretty Women’ costume that put Paisley’s name out there.” This type of attitude is what is promoting sexualizing of young girls.

What mothers need to realize is that mothers don’t look at their children the same way other people look at them, such as pedophiles. For example, mothers don’t look at their daughters as if they want to have sex with them like pedophiles might do. It’s just empowering the sexualizing of young girls that aren’t supposed to be sexy.

Although all may not agree with the statements above, some find it a productive activity. It is found to help to find contestants about competition, good work ethics, and mothers are gaining profit as well.

Levey, in interviewing parents, has concluded that one big reason parents have their daughters compete is that they see the contests as a means of acquiring skills that can be useful later in life. The pageants teach the contestants the rules and basics of competition. It teaches them how to compete and teaches them the values of winning and losing. Levey also notes that the contestants are “learning confidence” (Levey par. 52). They learn how to accept defeat and that a big loss will not take them down it will only make the contestant, and their confidence stronger. This is a valid point in arguing for the pageants. I feel this could be one benefit of the pageants.

Beauty pageants also teach them good work ethic. As long as they are competing, they’re going to want to compete harder and harder to get the main title. They work hard to compete in the pageant. If they lose they work harder and harder for the next pageant with hope and determination to win. This is a great point in defense for the pageants. It teaches contestants good work ethic while having their idea of ‘fun’.

One pageant mom Levey quoted in his article said, “‘I started making my daughter’s clothes and she was winning. Then people kept asking me for clothes. . . . That’s my business. That’s what I do, I sew’” (Levey par. 57). Her daughter competing is helping the mother bring in income. Some people rely on their children to compete well and win. It’s their main source of income. Although, a positive, this is a counterproductive argument. Children should not have this type of responsibility. They should not be relied upon as income. If the child should lose, they are left feeling as a failure not only to themselves, but to the family as well. This type of pressure may be traumatizing to a child.

Child beauty pageants may not be everyone’s cup of tea. It promotes serious health risks to a developing child, and also promotes the sexualizing of young girls. Others see it as a great thing. It teaches them to the values of competing, to work hard to achieve what they want, and how competing can be a family’s main source of income. Personally, you won’t catch me watching Toddlers and Tiaras.

Works Cited

“Health Risks of Child Beauty Pageants”. AOL. America OnLine, 21 Sept. 2011. Web. 25 Nov. 2011.
Levey, Hilary. “Pageant Princesses and Math Whizzes: Understanding Children’s Activities as a Form of Children’s Work.” Childhood 16.2 (2009): 195-212. Print. McKay, Holly. “Mother of ‘baby Hooker’ on ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’: Controversy Made Me Famous.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 04 Apr. 2012. Web. 30 Nov. 2012.

Orenstein, Peggy. “Playing at Sexy.” New York Times. New York Times, 13 June 2010. Web. 30 Nov. 2012. “Should Little Girls Wear High Heels?” CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 19 Jan. 2012. Web. 05 Dec. 2012.

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