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The Ugly Truth of Child Beauty Pageants

Updated on March 5, 2013
Toddlers and Tiaras - TLC
Toddlers and Tiaras - TLC

The ugly side to a beautiful industry

As funny and entertaining as TLC’s Toddlers and Tiaras can be, the show has raised immense controversy, and for good reason. After watching 4 year olds be spray tanned and a 3 year old be dressed up as Julia Roberts’ prostitute character from Pretty Woman, it’s obvious to anyone that child beauty pageants are nothing less then blatant objectification of young girls. The costumes, the make up, and the “primping” process teach these girls that their looks are what matters. Rather than raising strong, confident girls who want to achieve the best in life, these parents and the hosts of the competitions provide a platform on which little girls are dressed up as Barbie dolls and paraded around, trying to achieve some form of perfection that shouldn’t exist in little girls.

An estimated 250,000 children participate in child beauty pageants every year, and the number is only rising because of shows like Toddlers and Tiaras. The industry is now one of the largest growing businesses in America, and on average beauty pageants are grossing over 5 billion dollars. With numbers like these, child beauty pageants aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, so it’s only fair to ask the government to regulate these competitions, in the hope of saving the childhoods of many little girls and boys.

For most pageants, children can begin participating basically as soon as they can sit up by themselves, so it is the parents, and most often the mothers, who force their kids into the pageant world. This world is not pretty. The pageant world for young girls can ultimately ruin their childhoods, essentially forcing them to grow up too soon; the costumes and the make up and the big hair sexualize these little girls, way before they should become sexual. Young girls in beauty pageants often imitate older women through the use of sex appeal and costumes that “enhance” their outer beauty. The Beauty portions of the competitions feature the contestants dressed up in provocative outfits, dancing and performing the all-too-often inappropriate routines on stage, while being judged for their looks. This literal judgment can destroy the girls’ sense of self-worth and beauty, causing long-term damage. For a “glitz pageant,” the typical preparation includes fake eyelashes, fake nails, hair extensions, teeth whitening, eyebrow waxing and grooming, heavy make-up, and most recently, breast and butt padding to enhance the look. The costumes are often low-cut, see-through, or just plain inappropriate for the four year old wearing it.

During the talent/routine portion, the contestants strut across the stage, blowing kisses and winking, posing and twirling for the judges. The poses that the girls are taught are most often sexual, accentuating their hips and bottom. On one of the episodes of Toddlers and Tiaras, a 3 year old was dressed up as the prostitute played by Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman,” complete with patent leather knee-high boots, a mid-drift baring shirt, and short skirt. By dressing up little girls in sexy outfits and parading them across the stage, we are not only damaging their childhood, but we are also creating unhealthy habits.

Beauty pageants for young girls foster inappropriate, unnecessary and unhealthy behaviors. In striving for physical perfection, physical harm is done to these little girls. The make-up and hairspray are detrimental to their skin and growth. According to Travis Stork of CBS’s The Doctors, hair spray contains chemicals that can act as hormone disruptors, and have been linked to stunted growth and even lung cancer.

The desire to be thin has progressed to girls as young eight, with studies showing girls in fourth grade saying they need to go on a diet, and have also shown parents putting their kids on crash diets to help them gain energy and lose weight, fast. This encourages eating disorders, dieting and struggling for perfection, which lasts late into adulthood.

Emotional and mental harm also takes effect from these pageants. The desire to be thin causes intense body image problems. Brooke Breedwell, a former child pageant star, told ABC’s Good Morning America that the pageants left her with stress, anxiety and the feeling that she needed to be perfect, all the time. Breedwell was also forced to go to a tanning bed three times a week for 20 minutes, during her pageant career.

In addition, children are expected to perform flawlessly on stage, placing enormous pressure on young shoulders. As seen on Toddlers and Tiaras, tears, tantrums and fits ensue regularly, and often the adults mock their kids. This longing for perfection leads to long-term side impacts, causing superficiality, destroying self-worth and self-beauty, and causing girls to think that natural beauty will never be enough.

Overall, child beauty pageants cause major problems for girls in the long run, and are ultimately more hurtful than helpful. Beauty pageants like Miss USA and Miss Universe are competitions among mature, self-assured women who are capable of making their own decisions, and the competitions ultimately result in scholarship and volunteer work for the women involved. Child beauty pageants, however, ruin these girls’ childhoods and force them to grow up believing in their looks, rather than in themselves. The sexualization of little girls is a dangerous path to follow, and beauty pageants are only doing more harm to the future generations of women. We should be teaching our little girls that beauty can be seen in all shapes and sizes, not by how much make up someone wears.


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    • profile image


      23 months ago

      Several of the comments above seem to have been made by some "Womens Lib-Bra Burning" people. My 6 yr old granddaughter is VERY much a "girlie-girl" & would probably love doing the pageants. The PARENTS control the outfits & actions of their "toddlers". If your daughter is interested in participating in pageants, YOU can teach them that this is a "fantasy" life, & not the child's real life. They can be taught that "you win some, you lose some" & it does NOT reflect on who they are. The PARENTS are the ones that put the pressure on these girls. The rest of us can teach our girls that the pageants are just for fun & when they are not fun, they we quit!!

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      They are only exploiting glitz pageants natural pageants are not bad at all in fact they give every girl an award for something and you have to be a teen to wear makeup or you will be disqualified you will even not be alowed to wear degrading outfits such as the ones on toddlers and tiaras my daughter did a natural pageant and had fun and made new friends

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      I agree and these child beauty pageants also encourages kids to act like spoiled brats which is going to be a nightmare for parents when they reach teenhood

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      What utter rubbish! Written by someone that knows nothing clearly. Have a wonderful close minded life, good luck to you.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Can I join

    • Michele Travis profile image

      Michele Travis 

      5 years ago from U.S.A. Ohio

      This is a wonderful hub. I wonder how many of this little girls are going to become bulimics or anorexics. Why don't their parents know how much they are hurting their children?

    • rose-the planner profile image

      rose-the planner 

      5 years ago from Toronto, Ontario-Canada

      I believe these so called "child beauty pageants" do nothing more than exploit innocent children. In my opinion, the mothers that do this to their little ones are unfulfilled individuals that are attempting to live their own fantasies vicariously through the eyes of their children. Great article! Thanks for sharing.

    • ClaireLindsey profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago

      Thank you! And yes--you're very right!

    • Marilyn Kee profile image

      Marilyn Kee 

      5 years ago from Penang, Malaysia

      Very well written. Yet there are still lots of young parents who would do anything for their kids to be up on stage.


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