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The Child Beauty Pageant

Updated on June 22, 2013
Too much sugar for some tastes
Too much sugar for some tastes

A Sugar-Addiction...The Pre-teen Scene

They look like condensed coquettes...prancing, primping and dancing their way across the stage in a blaze of glitz that would rival the campest Mardi Gras. This is the pre-teen beauty pageant scene where the rule is keep smiling ...literally.

As readers who haven't been cryogenically frozen for the last few years will already know, pre-teen pageants first came under the critical spotlight with the highly publicised murder of six year old JonBenet Ramsay, a successful contestant on the circuit. I first stumbled upon the phenomena watching Jean Treay's 1995 documentary Painted Babies. I couldn't believe my eyes. I know there's other articles about this at the hub and it's been a well-covered topic in general but I still wanted to write about it because I confess to a small fascination with the subject.

Adorable dress-ups or provocative mini-vixen?
Adorable dress-ups or provocative mini-vixen?
Winner of *most like a plastic doll*.
Winner of *most like a plastic doll*.

Pageant Parents

What's it all about? What is the motivation for mothers to dress their daughters up like the most diabetes-inducing sugar dessert on the menu, thereby obscuring almost every vestige of their natural infant charm. The parades themselves, which require more personal preparation than might be expected from a bus load of professional drag-queens, are only exceeded in excess by the heavily plasticised publicity shots contestants may commission for a healthy-fee, in order to 'increase their chances of success'......and which successfully suck out any last remaining indicators that these children might really belong to the human species. Imperfection it seems, is to be eradicated at all costs.

Though cosmetic surgeons and the beauty industry may not agree, it doesn't seem like a very good message for the still developing brains of five and six year-olds to be absorbing.God knows we get enough of that pressure later. Or is it just, as some claim, in fun ...

In Little Miss Perfect , yet another doco on the subject, one of the mothers likens pre-teen pageantry to any other sport and adds "I guess you would think we're doing something wrong if you had an ugly child." Except I can't think of a single sport where unattractiveness levels are an excluding factor.

It may just be fun, yet the whole thing appears to be taken very seriously by those concerned. It doesn't seem to be all about money, at least not for the contestants...[for the organizers and the side industry of hair-stylists, make-up artists, photographers, dress-makers, fake tanning experts etc, it might be another story]. The prizes aren't that crash hot, considering the expenses involved and of course you only receive them if you win.

Is Barbie the standard of beauty?
Is Barbie the standard of beauty?

Best in Show

I don't even think it's about's so artificial it's difficult to discern the child's real looks behind the costume and heavy make-up. It's more about conformity to a standard set by the organisation; a standard that requires money and hired expertise.

In some ways it reminds me of those fanatical dog shows where *most absurd looking genetically engineered dog* seems always to win. Like the dogs, do these primped children, by extension, provide an elevation of status for the "owners"? Are they some kind of mini-alter ego device, enabled by their innocence?

I find serious dog shows disturbing too and the breeding habits that have caused immeasurable suffering to many of the animals merely so they can conform to some ridiculous standard of aesthetics dreamt up by a panel of fanatics. Now I'm not suggesting pageant parents would stoop to genetic engineering or that the similarity stretches to anything beyond a parade of absurdity, but it is interesting that in both cases an external standard of aesthetics is applied by an organisation that demands total conformity to an extreme and completely manufactured ideal...and that there are so many willing to bend over backwards to fit it.

Just Curious - Pageant Poll

How do you feel about these kind of pre-teen beauty contests?

See results

Pageant Kids

Cutie1903', a youtuber who's daughter is apparently a high achiever in the pageants, had this to say in response to my question about whether or not it's really about looks or talent, or rather how much you can afford in order to meet the exacting standards of the judges:

I am sorry to say but yes that is true, is you do not have the right clothes, routines, make up, hair or coaches etc you probably will not do too well in a pageant and definitely will not win the big prize 'grand'.... you usually can guess who is going to win by seeing who has entered in the pageant (you get to know the girls and their record) my little ones name is known around the US as a pageant winner and usually it is common knowledge that Ebs will place high and win.

All this makes me wonder if there's any point in entering if you're not in the top bunch or don't have $2000 dollars to spend on a bunch on frothy clothes, since the placements seem to be a done deal...more or less.

To this writer the whole scene seems like a terrible exploitation and a bizarre parody of the worst aspects of vapid cultural girlie-ization yet as far as I know, and despite the opinions of many psychologists, there isn't any conclusive evidence that participating in these pageants causes significant damage [correct me if I'm wrong] Some former participants who have now grown into young women claim they really enjoyed the pageant scene and benefited from the experience...gaining in poise and confidence. Still, I can't help wondering if all those who continually lost out to the pinkest dress/whitest caps/bouffiest hair would feel the same way. Nor has it been a completely trouble-free experience for every winner:

In a 2009 interview on Good Morning America, pageant queen[at 5], Brooke Breedwell, now 20, explained there was a price to pay : "Pageants have put a lot of stress and anxiety on my life I feel the need to be perfect at everything, and I know that's not realistic. You can't be perfect at everything." Breedwell also claimed her mother "pushed her too hard."

Child Beauty Pageants:Helpful or Harmful?

After corresponding with a couple of mothers who have been very up-front about their pageant addiction, and seem..well quite nice well as loving mothers, I'm now not as convinced that the pre-teen beauty scene carries the sinister undertones I first suspected, although I still have big reservations or I wouldn't be writing this. The mothers also point out that when they're away from the circuit the children lead normal, childish lives. Is it just that I've made a value-judgement and one person's tackiness is another's aesthetic pleasure...or is there something else going on? After a barrage of criticism many of the pageant parents are on the defensive. Is it just strange but harmless? I don't know....but the stakes might be rising in the US style child pageant industry as they have now moved into the UK and Australia and possibly elsewhere. I've got a feeling there's big bucks involved...

*The video I've included is a self-serving ad for Dove, but I still liked it. It's right above my self-serving ebay ad...


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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      i personaly find nothing wrong with pageants, as long as the child themselves wants to do it! idk y all of yall r baggin' on pageants!! im 13 and do pageants and ive had nothing but good experiences in them!

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hanna, thanks for your refreshingly cynical comment. I'm sure they do just want your money..they're owned by a multinational corporation, after all. Dove has a smart ad campaign that appeals to the *socially conscious*...but look, I'd rather they did that than take the conventional approach we see with every other cosmetics manufacturer.

      Dove is owned by unilever but I'd still rather give them my money than Nestle...

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I find it abhorrent that people keep looking to Dove as the epitome of changing women's values in an ever increasing market where we are sold perfection. The problem is that Dove just wants your money, like the rest of the cosmetics industry, if they were true to the values that they have stated, they wouldn't be associated with the brand 'Lynx' or 'Axe' which uses the objectification of women to sell- very poor smelling men's deodorants.

      I know you said this add was self serving for Dove, and its a very nice concept, but we all need to stop being so naïve in thinking that this brand might have the best interests of women at heart. They don't. They just want your money. Look into it.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Thanks very much for that contribution Lauren.I especially appreciate hearing from someone who has had experience with the pageants. I'm glad to hear it's not so awful!

      I'm sure you're right about was just that she threw the whole thing into the spotlight.


    • Maddy'sPageantMom profile image


      7 years ago from Texas

      Jane Bovary,

      I agree with you in a sense. What is portrayed here is absolutely awful and horrible, and should not be condoned. But let me tell you something, the real world of pageants is almost nothing like that. My daughter is 11 and has been doing pageants since the age of 3. She's won countless pageants and has been to many national competitions. So yes, we have experience in Glitz pageants. Let me tell you, it's not as awful as it seems! It's a fun activity that makes little girls feel like princesses. No offense is meant to you, but the media does an awful portrayal of these pageants, and you shouldn't believe everything you see/hear. And as for JonBenet Ramsay, oh my goodness, yes that was an awful thing, but it had absolutely nothing to do with her being in pageants. Well I'm sorry for the lengthy rant, but I just wanted to let you know my opinion.

      Love and kisses,


    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      They are disturbing BB. It's so over the top. JonBenet Ramsay is the girl you're thinking of.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Gosh, aren't these disturbing images. I saw a documentary a long time ago about these nutty American mothers making their children do this (mothers didn't 'make it' as beauty queens themselves). Remember that little girl with french-sounding name that was murdered too

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hi J, thanks for reading. I'm with you there!

    • J. Edward Hardin profile image

      J. Edward Hardin 

      7 years ago

      Yes, that Little Miss Sunshine is one of my favorites, and in my opinion takes all the shows.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      I tend to agree with you Dolores..and nice to see you. Thanks for reading

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 

      7 years ago from East Coast, United States

      There is something so creepy about what I can only see as the sexualization of little girls, I can't understand why a mother would do this to her child. This ain't dress ups.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      7 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Cheeky's a strange phenomenum, the child beauty thing. I still haven't worked out what its all about, but my instincts say *not good*. Cheers and thanks for reading.

    • Cheeky Girl profile image

      Cassandra Mantis 

      7 years ago from UK and Nerujenia

      Oh those poor kids, going through all that. I find it all quite disturbing. Kids should not be mad to go through all this nonsense. It's not good for kids. And do they ever really have a childhood like other kids? I somehow doubt this. Glad I read this hub. Great writing.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hi Petra,

      Yes, apart from anything else it does seem very exploititative to put that amount of stress on children who are so very young.'s like they're being colonised by the beauty industry.

      Thanks for commenting.

    • Petra Vlah profile image

      Petra Vlah 

      8 years ago from Los Angeles

      If this is not child abuse, than I don't know what it is!

      I am not even talking about where those parents are placing their values; do they expect those little girls to grow up into "real" people or would they rather have them in fantasy land from now to eternity?

      How sad to even try to convince the rest of us that those innocent dolls are really enjoying the hassle of running from one competition to the next.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Yes eslevy...Little Miss Sunshine put things in their proper perspective! Thanks for reading.

    • eslevy17 profile image


      8 years ago

      I'm glad someone finds this as disturbing as I do. Though on the upside we now have Little Miss Sunshine, and that's pretty good consolation.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Momma Mia....thanks very much for your contribution. Yes, all that frippery jiggery doesn't appeal to me either. I mean it's fine if that's your bag but overlaying it to such a degree on to small girls does seem dodgy.

      A children's hair salon is a great idea...keep those stage mothers out of the way for a while.

      The Jon Benet case was very disturbing, that's for sure.

    • Momma Mia profile image

      Momma Mia 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Great Hub!!

      I have been speaking about this for 25 years ....My aunt pushed her baby to live in this world of paint and glitz. My Aunt was out going and raised where money appeared to grow on trees. Her daughter looked miserable off stage and to this day ( she is 30) she is so shy and acts unhappy!

      I am a cosmotologist and did hair and makeup for a few pagents, commercials and weddings. I thought it was silly as I still I opened a Childrens hair salon ...where they could be themselves!

      Raising my 2 daughters (15 and 20) to believe in their own abilities and to work hard on them...that did not include looking sexy for the world to drool over. However as one became older she likes the hair and makeup tricks, and wears some pretty sexy tops....the 20 year old could care less as long as she has a clean face and clean

      I just feel it is better to let them decide what feels right and natural for themselves.

      Jon Benot still stays in my thoughts > I followed that case closely and still check in on it.

      well as my grandma said " pretty is as pretty does!" And she is so right!

      Thanks for such a great hub!


    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hi oliversmum,

      Thankyou for the comments. I'm not sure whether it's harmful or not but my instincts tell me there is something a little amiss in thinking it's a good idea to put "bedroom eyes on a six year-old" , as one journalist described it.

    • oliversmum profile image


      8 years ago from australia

      Jane Bovary. Hi. My goodness what are some of these parents thinking, but on the other hand, they don't do they.

      This is way bigger than I could have imagined.

      Children have only one shot at being a child, and it seems like it has been taken away from them, by the very people that should be protecting them and making their lives as happy as they can, for what appears to be financial gain.

      This is very wrong (my personal opinion only).

      Thank you so much for sharing this with us, it is such a very important subject. :) :)

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      I agree Katie...thanks for the comment.

    • katiem2 profile image


      8 years ago from I'm outta here

      WOW i don't know what to say, I don't talk my two daughters into doing anything, life to short and childhoods even shorter. But in a world filled with pressures I would in no way want to send a message to my girls that they should create such an image of themselves to gain anything... To me that is sad... I appreciate your delivering this information. Thanks and Peace :)

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      Hi Arthur,

      I'm sure there are financial winners-just not the contestants. It's a $5 billion dollar industry.

    • Arthur Windermere profile image

      Arthur Windermere 

      8 years ago

      After reading your article a few days ago, I watched the Painted Babies documentary as well as the follow-up Painted Babies at 17 (they're both on youtube for the diligent). I was expecting to be creeped out, because I've been against the recent trend of increasingly sexy children's clothes and Halloween costumes. But it didn't seem that creepy to me at all. It's a bit silly to spend so much effort on dolling oneself up; but it's just as silly when adults do it. The parents seems even less pushy than spelling bee parents and martial arts championship parents. The children, when interviewed at 17, all claimed to have enjoyed the pageants. The winner from Painted Babies told her parents she was retiring at 7 and they let her. She has fond memories of it, she claims, but found it too childish to continue. So her position, oddly enough, is that beauty pageants are particularly FOR children.

      It's an expensive hobby, though. In Painted Babies, the mom claims to spend $35K each year on clothes. And in Painted Babies at 17, we're told the girl's total winnings is $20K. And she was one of the best. So there's no way to actually win financially from what I can see.

    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      I know what you mean Tony...thanks for the comment. Appreciated.

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      8 years ago from South Africa

      Interesting and rather shoicking Hub. Thanks for sharing. I can't imagine that these things do any good for the children involved. They need to be children, for goodness sakes, not pretend grown-ups!

      Love and peace


    • Jane Bovary profile imageAUTHOR

      Jane Bovary 

      8 years ago from The Fatal Shore

      I'm really impressed with this ad combatability thing...when I first posted, a *dating for seniors* ad came Two minutes later it was replaced by one for *pageant tiaras*.


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