Since the 1960s, child beauty pageants have become part of U.S. culture.
Originally created for kids between ages 13 and 17, the activity has grown to include even younger children. Thousands of beauty pageants are held in the United States each year, creating a $5 billion industry. Many people believe beauty pageants are beneficial to child development, but others argue against these events because of their belittling nature.
Although child beauty pageants may be seen as extracurricular activities that help develop self-confidence in young children as well as create new learning experiences, beauty pageants instill in their participants the idea that their natural beauty is not sufficient and requires enhancements.
Even though they are said to develop self-confidence, beauty pageants have been shown to have a harmful effect on their contestants’ self-esteem. Beauty pageants focus on outward appearance rather than inner beauty. They create young children who hate their appearance and become obsessed with perfecting it.
Dietitian Martina M. Cartwright, whose research on beauty pageants has been published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, has observed the pressure that parents put on their young daughters to look “flawless” in glitz pageants.
“Everything was based on what these kids look like and the way that these children were displayed or dressed,” Cartwright noted.
Emphasizing physical perfection may put girls at risk for eating disorders, she maintained.
In her view, and mine, extracurricular activities need to build children’s spirits — not tear them down.
Others say these contests inspire adolescents to strive for perfection, but in reality, perfection is impossible. Taught by beauty pageants to see themselves as not good enough without “improvements,” girls turn to material goods such as makeup and hair extensions. Recklessly, some young children even have surgeries performed to enhance their natural beauty.
As writer Andrew Stephen put it, pageant girls “learn that they are being valued only by conforming to an idealized, unreal version of feminine beauty. ... The result is hollow children and narcissistic parents.”
Some parents encourage beauty pageants because they say their children are learning new experiences such as budgeting and earning scholarship money. But at the same time, girls may be sawing away at their lifelines, due to the disorders they may face later because of their participation in these highly competitive contests.
As Cartwright wrote in Psychology Today, “Issues with self-identity after a child ‘retires’ from the pageant scene in her teens are not uncommon. Struggles with perfection, dieting, eating disorders, and body image can take their toll in adulthood.”
Child beauty pageants may lead to negative outcomes that are already problems in this world today: body dissatisfaction, eating disorders, depression and other mental health issues.
If the United States continues with beauty pageants, too many individuals will continue to be disgusted by their natural appearance.
Emily Regitz is in grade 11 at Ephrata High School.