Toddler beauty pageants are only the beginning

By Jessica Fashant |

My niece was the prettiest little girl on the stage that morning.

Curly brown hair, big green eyes and a smile that can light up any room. I don’t agree with beauty pageants, and here I was, watching my niece compete in one.

She was only 1 or 2 at the time, and the announcer went on, saying a few things about the contestants: What their favorite color is, their favorite foods. Trinity’s favorite is French fries. With an answer like that, there’s no doubt we’re related.

“Trinity loves to get dressed up. Everyone was always telling me how beautiful she was. So I figured why not,” said Jennifer, my older sister. But pageants are only the beginning. My niece isn’t an extreme example by any means, but shows like “Toddlers and Tiaras” are only teaching children unhealthy views about their bodies and how they “should look.”

Seriously, why does anyone under the age of let’s say…70, need to wear “flippers”—fake teeth? Children in beauty pageants wear them to hide the gaps that normal girls have from losing their baby teeth. Before the show was put on the air, TLC issued a press release saying that it would be “jam-packed with stage moms and dads, hair extensions, spray tanning, makeup and glitter.” If you’ve ever watched the show, you’d know that’s an understatement.

According to Carleton Kendrick, a family therapist and an expert on toddlers and teens, “[the] overwhelming opinion in the psychology community concerning children’s beauty pageants is that they are not in the best interests of healthy child development.”

Girls like Karlee from “Toddlers and Tiaras” look to have been programmed by their mothers on what to say and how to walk, except that they don’t do either of these things as convincingly as other humans. However, Karlee comes alive when she taps into her flirty side. Yes, flirty side. At one point she says: “I want to be a cheerleader, because I like to show my belly. That’s what they do.” She’s 7.

Coupled with evidence from her talent performance, where she lays on her stomach and bends her legs backwards over her head, I’m thinking that she’ll probably do well socially at college parties. She’s going to kick ass at keg stands. That must be every parents’ dream.

Shows like this don’t teach children how to love themselves the way they are. Instead, it shows that little girls only seem to be happy when they’re dressed up with hair extensions.

There needs to be more shows celebrating natural beauty so children don’t grow up learning that they need to cover their face with makeup at 7 years old in order to feel beautiful.

My father raised me as a single parent and didn’t allow makeup until I was almost 14. Is that such an absurd thought? Why does anyone younger than that need makeup anyway?

When children grow up with unnatural views of their bodies it just gets worse with age. The sexualization of girls is a broad and increasing problem, the American Psychological Association reports. At a younger age, girls start viewing their worth as tied up with sex appeal. They become self-conscious, image-obsessed, and depressed. At 10 years old, girls start trying to look like the models they see in ads, they start pretending they aren’t smart, because “smart” and “sexy” don’t go together. Between 20 and 40 percent of ten year olds start dieting, APA reports. No wonder younger girls are developing eating disorders.

“Toddlers and Tiaras” is just a very public example of the kind of society we’re becoming. These girls are being rewarded with a reality show that portrays them as image-obsessed. Children need to be allowed to have a childhood, and learn to love themselves for who they are.

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