The audacity and toxicity of child beauty pageants




*TRIGGER WARNING: Eating Disorders.

Can you imagine stepping into an industry filled with toxicity and manipulation at an early age?

For decades, beauty pageants have been normalized in most parts of the country to the point where it has been deemed a part of American culture. As a result, child beauty pageants emerged from the scene, with thousands of contests held a year in the five-billion-dollar industry.

Yet, the existence of child beauty pageants contribute to nothing but the increase of self-detrimental views in underaged contestants all around the globe, and children should not be subjected to such emotional harm.

First and foremost, parents are the ones responsible for their children’s involvement in beauty pageants. Without having parental permission, children are unable to do anything. Hence, responsibility rests completely on the shoulders of parents, and parents that allow their children to compete against others based on physical appearance are shallow and senseless. If they truly cared about their children’s emotional well being, then they would not even think about putting them in competitions that are bound to leave them with eating disorders, body dysmorphia and other self-image problems.

Additionally, beauty pageants cause eating disorders in contestants. A study from 2003 shows that around a quarter of female beauty pageant contestants develop eating disorders. Yet, in the year after, the prevalence rate of anorexia and bulimia in Western countries maxed out at 7.3%. These statistics only reflect the adults in the industry. Imagine how negatively children are affected if they are exposed to the same toxic conditions that their older counterparts are facing? When someone, especially a child, is put in the spotlight and judged for their physical appearance, it is obvious that there will be some harm dealt to them. In this case, by comparing themselves to the other children, child contestants are likely to experience a decrease in levels of body satisfaction. This leads them to develop eating disorders when they are young, as the contests’ superficial values pressure the children to adhere to the unrealistic standards of the pageant industry.

According to William Pinsof, a clinical psychologist and president of the Family Institute at Northwestern University, “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."

Additionally, child beauty pageants contribute to the public’s sexualization of underaged kids. There are provocative contest categories including sportswear and swimwear, and children often compete in those wearing revealing two pieces and exaggerated makeup. It is uncomfortable enough to see young children mimicking the appearance of adults by wearing exaggerated makeup, but seeing them in suggestive clothing just crosses the line.

Especially when children do not understand the extent of their actions, it is downright egregious to see their parents allowing them to do whatever it takes to win a pageant. Even if it is the child that wants to be a part of the industry, parents should refrain from allowing them to until they are of age. Why are children immersing themselves in the shallow values of the beauty pageant industry when they barely have the ability to think for themselves? However, if it is the parent that pressures the child to join pageants, that makes the situation completely and utterly immoral. To believe that some parents have the audacity to exploit their child’s mental health for the sake of a higher social status or to have something to brag about just demonstrates how shallow some people’s outlooks on life are.

All in all, the child beauty pageant industry should be abolished unless it undergoes a reformation that purifies the industry of its destructive roots. If children grow up exposed to the toxic standards of the pageant business, their emotional well being is sure to plummet as they navigate throughout their lives.