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Melissa Woeppel
Dr Van Tassel
English 102
3 August 2011

                         Beauty Pageants: The Distortion of True Beauty

       On Katie’s third birthday, her mother gifts her with an extravagantly expensive dress in

hopes of persuading her daughter into participating in beauty pageants. The poofy pink dress, full

of sparkles and sequins, would be sure to win over any little girl. Katie is no exception, and falls

in love with the gorgeous formal gown. She agrees to participate almost immediately. With a

pageant fast approaching, her mother signs her up for singing and modeling lessons, adding up to

14 plus hours a week. The pageant finally arrives and Katie sits through almost two hours of hair

and makeup before getting to go on stage. The dance routine is the first part of the pageant, and

Katie forgets some moves to her routine. As she walks off the stage, her mother yanks her aside,

gives her daughter multiple hard smacks and tells her she better not mess up again. Because

Katie doesn’t want to disappoint her mother, she simply nods her head while the tears stream

down her face.


       While Katie may not be real, this story reflects the stories of too many young girls

involved in child beauty pageants. Whether or not they enjoy participating, the girls do want to

please their mothers. If mothers want their daughters to be prancing across stage, then by golly,

that’s what they’ll be doing. Mothers force their daughters into these unhealthy pageants that

teach girls that only physical beauty matters. In the United States, more than 5,000 child beauty

pageants are held each year. According to the publishers of High Glitz: The Extravagant World

of Child Beauty Pageants, up to 100,000 children, 12 years of age or under, participate in child

beauty pageants. That means 100,000 young girls are being taught that wearing excessive
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amounts of makeup and sporting over-the-top hair dos are the only ways to become beautiful.

This kind of mind set can be extremely damaging to such young children. Beauty pageants

distort little girls’ definition of beauty and cause a loss of childhood as well as negative

psychological effects in the future.


       Beauty pageants started in the United States in 1921 in Atlantic City. A hotel owner

wanted to keep tourists around town. A reporter dubbed the winner “Miss America”, and the

name stuck. Pageants became a very popular event, and remain so, despite being stopped during

the Great Depression (Nussbaum). In 1961, child beauty pageants became a popular event in

New Jersey. Palisades Amusement Park held the first Little Miss America Pageant for girls, ages

five to ten years old. Children were expected to wear their Sunday best and the use of makeup

was kept to a minimum. The girls were supposed to look young and innocent. They didn’t wear

dresses for girls twice their senior or cake on three inches of makeup. Looking back on these first

pageants, one mother wishes the pageants of today could reflect the same beauty and natural

innocence of children- “Little girls are little girls. Not show girls. They grow up fast enough”

(Casstevens). Today, child beauty pageants are open to girls from babies to 18 year olds. The

pageants are mother-daughter dominated, as most fathers and sons are not involved. Beauty

pageants encourage the use of beauty enhancing products, like spray tans and makeup, that are

being used to sexify three year old girls, and oftentimes, those even younger. The child beauty

pageants of today do not promote natural beauty. Instead, they distort the beauty and innocence

of children.


       Younger and younger girls are buying and using beauty products to enhance their beauty

but don’t feel good about themselves. In an evaluation of beauty trends by Newsweek, 10 year

old girls will spend over $300,000 on their hair and face alone by the time they turn fifty. These
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girls are trying to fix problems that don’t exist. Preteens believe that they need to improve their

already youthful skin, so what will they believe as they get older? According to Jessica Bennett’s

article “Generation Diva”-“The evolution of beauty standard[s] [are] becoming harder to

achieve.” Later on in the article, Bennett refers to a study done by the Dove Real Beauty

campaign. An overwhelming majority of 10 year olds are afraid of becoming fat and these

preteens are using firming cream to keep that from happening. When ten-year-old girls believe

that they need to use cellulite to fix their problem-free skin, they will have problems ever finding

themselves beautiful. Beauty pageants do not help girls with these problems, and in fact, distort

girls’ views on beauty. Pageants encourage the overuse of makeup, spray tans, glitz, and glam.

Staceyann Chin notes that the girls “are all wearing hairpieces and mounds of sea-green eye

shadow, sporting fake eyelashes, and moving their hips suggestively.” Lucia Grosaru also states

that these pageants allow girls and their parents to use an overly excessive amount of “make-up,

hair extensions, teased hairstyles, clouds of hairspray, flippers (fake teeth), [and] sophisticated

costumes.” Girls have no choice but to apply an extremely needless amount of makeup and

extravagant clothing if they have hopes of winning the pageant. They must act sultry and sexy if

they want to take home the prize. These standards should not define beauty, especially for girls.

Beauty is about more than just physical looks. Girls should be taught that they are beautiful for

their knowledge and their talents along with their physical beauty. There is a definite difference

in the beauty of a full grown adult to that of a toddler or young girl. Being a child is a beautiful

thing, but this kind of beauty cannot be compared a mature female’s beauty. Child beauty

pageants fail to recognize that young girls are not yet grown women.


       Another severe problem caused by beauty pageants is a loss of childhood. By

participating in beauty pageants, children, often through their parents urging and insistence, give
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up their childhood and freedom to play, have fun, and to just be a kid. To win a beauty pageant,

girls must act and appear more mature if they want to take home the crown. Columnist Olive

Roberts attended a child beauty pageant in South Africa. One winner would get the title of Miss

Tiny Africa and the other Miss Petite Africa. In this particular pageant, the girls are expected to

get in line and hold out their hands. Judges come by so they can take a look at the girls’ nails.

The judges check to make sure that the nails are cut and painted the right way. The same is done

with the feet. Judges ask questions like: “Are they clean? Have they been cut correctly? Has she

recently been playing in a sandpit?” (Roberts). It is absolutely ludicrous to expect a child to keep

their nails in perfect condition. Being a teenager myself, I commonly find chips in my nails not

even thirty minutes after painting them. Because children have an inborn instinct to play, they

should not be held to such high standards in nail care. Girls are unable to play to their hearts

content while maintaining the beauty standards of adults. While beauty pageant girls must wear

expensive, over-the-top dresses and be perfectly groomed, the “other girls their age will be

running barefoot in sandpits” (Roberts). Girls experience a loss of childhood when they are

judged on their physical beauty at such a young age. The time will come – when they are older –

to worry about what others think of them. There’s no need to force that on a child. Sarrah Le

Marquand also believes that children should not be subjected to being judged on their beauty.

She insists: “An over-emphasis on appearance and a knack for [accessorizing] are hardly

qualities we should be fostering in prepubescents. It’s time to lock the tiaras away for a few more

years.”


          Participating in the beauty pageant circuit as a child causes negative psychological effects

in the future. A study done by Anna L. Wonderlich, Diann M. Ackard, and Judith B. Henderson

shows that there is really no difference in bulimic tendencies between adult women who had
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participated in pageants as a child and those who hadn’t. However, women who participated in

beauty pageants were more dissatisfied with their body than the other women. Beauty pageants

do affect how women view themselves (“Childhood Beauty Pageant Contestants”). Because

participating in beauty pageants as a child can lead women to view their bodies negatively, some

psychologists believe that these pageants do cause eating disorders and other problems. Clinical

psychologist William Pinsof states that “being a little Barbie Doll says your body has to be a

certain way and your hair has to be a certain way. In girls particularly, this can unleash a whole

complex of destructive self-experiences that can lead to eating disorders and all kinds of body

distortions in terms of body image” (Nussbaum). Girls who participate in these beauty pageants

grow up believing that their bodies have to be perfect. Inevitably, when their bodies can’t meet

society’s extreme standards, the girls and women become depressed and develop self-harming

habits. Clinical psychologist Lucia Grosaru also states that “these contests promote physical

beauty as a main value…A child, especially a female that is going to pay so much attention to

her looks …is very prone to develop eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia.” In being

exposed to the harshness of adult beauty, young girls are being set up for psychological problems

in their futures.


        The most common argument from parents and pageant directors is that beauty pageants

teach girls confidence and self-respect. The director of the Little Miss Bayside Pageant, Laura

Buik, says “[they] want to encourage children and promote self-esteem through a fun and

supportive experience” (Le Marquand). Le Marquand states this argument would be much easier

to believe if participants were being judged on something other than just physical beauty. Also,

many pageants aren’t fun for girls. More often than not, there is a considerable amount of

animosity between the girls who are competing. The girls are lead to believe that their
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competitors will try to sabotage them and steal their routines and ideas. So instead of having fun

and making friends, the girls constantly keep their guard up to protect themselves from these

threats. Many mothers also believe pageants help their daughters to be themselves and to not be

shy or timid while they are being watched and judged. It is true that these pageants can help girls

learn how to perform in front of people and how to perform under pressure. However, there a

plenty of other venues that can give girls confidence without all of the judgment focused on their

physical assets. As Winebrenner states, “Children can do the same with joining a club or

organization.” 4-H, Girl Scouts, and even music groups teach girls about more than just beauty.

The previously mentioned groups and activities encourage and support girls in a more positive

way. They learn new skills and build upon skills that can be directly applied in their future.

Leadership, citizenship, and service are all important values that these organizations teach

children – and as a result of these lessons, the children who participate in them have a higher

level of confidence.


       By allowing child beauty pageants to continue in their current state, we are allowing the

beauty of little girls to be sold. We are cheaply giving away the natural and innocent beauty of

children and trading it for the mature and often sexy beauty of a grown woman. It’s no wonder

that young girls are using a stratospheric amount of makeup, spray tans, hair extensions, and fake

teeth. They start believing that they have to look older, sexier, and more mature to be considered

beautiful. They compare themselves to that 20-something model or actress seen on television or

on the runway. As a society, we are also teaching girls through these beauty pageants that beauty

is the only important quality that they can have. While it is important to be clean and well

groomed, beauty shouldn’t define the value of a person. Young girls need to learn that being

smart and having a caring heart are also important characteristics to possess.
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        There needs to be a reformation in the beauty pageant industry. Child beauty pageants

don’t need to be banned altogether, but there are many important changes that need to be made.

Girls need to be taught that beauty come from within, not from makeup or other beauty-

enhancing products. Thus, natural beauty pageants should be the only kind of pageants that

children under the age of 12 are allowed to participate in. Natural beauty pageants do not allow

the use of makeup, fake teeth, hair extensions, hair dye, or time-consuming hair do’s. Clothing

should be modest, age appropriate, and inexpensive. Extensively choreographed dances should

also be done away with. Girls should be performing a simple routine to the latest Disney song,

not shimmying across stage to Rihanna’s chart-topping single. In addition to these changes,

children participating in beauty pageants must also be keeping up in their school work. To ensure

that this happens, pageant directors should require a report card or progress report to be

submitted when contestants sign up to participate. With less focus on perfection and physical

beauty, participants will be so much happier with themselves. They will gain a self-confidence

that will last, even if their looks don’t.


        Instead of promoting natural beauty and self-respect, child beauty pageants distort little

girls’ definition of beauty and cause a loss of childhood as well as negative psychological effects.

Katie’s story, along with stories of so many other girls, could be totally different without the role

that beauty pageants play in their lives. Instead of being wrangled into the beauty pageant circuit,

Katie joins a local Girl Scout troop and a 4-H group because she has time for both. She is able to

make new friends and participate in a wide range of activities, from going camping to collecting

food for the local food pantry. She learns valuable life skills like cooking and sowing and is able

to explore all of her interests in both groups. Through these activities, Katie gains leadership
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abilities and becomes a confident young woman. She doesn’t spend hundreds and hundreds of

dollars on beauty supplies and is happy with the girl she is.
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                        Beauty Pageants: The Distortion of True Beauty

Bennett, Jessica. "Generation Diva." Newsweek. 30 Mar. 2009. Web. 27 July 2011.

       <http://www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2009/03/29/generation-diva.html>.

       Instead of being focused on education and learning, young girls are becoming heavily

       involved in beauty enhancing products and procedures. Younger and younger girls are

       using makeup and other cosmetics. Bennett says that much of this is due to the media and

       advertisements featuring airbrushed models. With the money some girls in their preteens

       and their parents will spend would be enough to pay for public, or even private college.

       These girls are spending time, effort, and money on problems that don't even exist yet.

Casstevens, David. "More Children Step into Beauty Contests, Drawing Controversy." Lincoln

       Journal Star 23 Oct. 2006, Faith and Values sec. 23 Oct. 2006. Web. 28 July 2011.

       <http://journalstar.com/lifestyles/faith-and-values/article_043dd630-b589-5745-82ec-

       2e13ac812644.html>.

       This article was very informative about the history and the workings of child beauty

       pageants. Real-life examples are also used to show buying a dress and organizing a

       pageant works.

Chin, Staceyann. "Beauty & the Boob Tube." The Advocate [Baton Rouge] May 2009: 76.

       Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 July 2011.

       As an opinion columnist, Chin is disgusted and appalled by child beauty pageants. She

       believes that these prepubescent girls should have time to be children and shouldn't have

       to worry about being the most beautiful or sexy girl. They have plenty of time before they

       reach womanhood.
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Grosaru, Lucia. "Toddlers and Children Beauty Pageants - Risk Factors for Severe Psychological

       Turmoils." Web log post. Psychology Corner. Sept. 2008. Web. 23 July 2011.

       <http://psychologycorner.com/toddlers-and-children-beauty-pageants-%E2%80%93-risk-

       factors-for-severe-psychological-turmoils/>.

       This blog, written by a clinical psychologist, examines child beauty pageants and the

       motives behind the parents’ decisions to enter their children into the afore-mentioned

       contests. Grosaru believes that mothers are just trying to live through their daughters. She

       argues that these kids should be free to make their own decisions and not have to make

       their mothers’ dreams come true.

"High Glitz: The Extravagant World of Child Beauty Pageants – PowerHouse Books."

       PowerHouse Books. Web. 03 Aug. 2011.

       <http://www.powerhousebooks.com/site/?p=9872>.

       This source includes a summary of the book High Glitz and gives some valuable

       information about the number of girls who participate in beauty pageants as well as how

       girls prepare for these pageants

Le Marquand, Sarrah. "Pout, Smile, Sashay and Kiss Childhood Farewell." Daily Telegraph

       (Surry Hills) Australia 10 Apr. 2010. SIRS Researcher. Web. 28 July 2011.

       This article, Le Marquand argues that child beauty pageants are not healthy ways to boost

       young girls' self-esteem. Because girls will be judged on their physical appearance later

       in life, the author sees no reason to start this process at such a young age. She would

       rather see beauty pageants being held off until the girls are older and the makeup and

       sexiness of pageants is more age appropriate.
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Nussbaum, Kareen. Children and Beauty Pageants. MS. Brooklyn College. Beauty Pageants. A

       Minor Concideration. Web. 28 July 2011. <http://www.minorcon.org/pageants.html>.

       This is a student research paper about beauty pageants and the possibility that child

       beauty pageants could be a form of child abuse. Nussbaum includes the history of beauty

       pageants in her essay and also uses a psychologist as a source to prove that these pageants

       can be destructive to little girls.

Roberts, Oliver. "Competition. Little Miss GROWN UP." Sunday Times (South Africa) 17 Oct.

       2010, LifeStyle ed. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 27 July 2011.

       While some parents believe that beauty pageants help build their children's self-esteem

       and confidence, but while they're learn to be women, their losing their childhood. Roberts

       examines the reality of child beauty pageants; Four-year-olds having their nails examined

       to make sure they were cut and polished the right way and that the girls haven't done

       anything to chip the paint. He believes that parents are giving up a lot to make their

       daughters more confident. They are giving up their children's whole childhood.

Winebrenner, Brittany. Pageant Mom: Loving or Obsessed? MS. University Of Tampa. Web. 24

       July 2011. <http://www.bwinebrenner.com/website%20imgs/Pageant_Moms_Miop.pdf>.

       This student essay analyzes the change in beauty pageants over time, the negative effects

       these pageants can have on young girls, and finally, the reasons why mothers are entering

       their children into these contests. Winebrenner also looks into problems the mothers can

       face, which can be as severe as have an obsession over their daughter.

Wonderlich, Anna L., Diann M. Ackard, and Judith B. Henderson. "Childhood Beauty Pageant

       Contestants: Associations with Adult Disordered Eating and Mental Health." Eating

       Disorders May-June 2005: 291-301. Academic Search Premier. Web. 27 July 2011.
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This study looks at the effects participating in beauty pageants as a child has on adult

women. It compares women who participated in these pageants to women who didn't.

Former child beauty pageant participants were more dissatisfied with their physical

appearance than the other women. However, there wasn't much of a difference between

the former participants and the other women in terms of those who suffer from Anorexia

and other similar diseases in their adult life.

								
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