Dublin axes child pageant amid concerns about the message it sends... but Belfast date still stands
A children's welfare watchdog has raised concerns about a beauty pageant for kids being staged in Belfast.
The boss of a contentious US child pageant company has abandoned plans to stage separate contests in Dublin and Cork next month – and will now host just one event in Belfast.
Texas-based Universal Royalty had intended to stage three Toddlers & Tiaras-style events across Ireland in September, as a follow-up from their debut child beauty competition on the island last year.
A cool response from hoteliers and venue bosses in the Republic has forced the company's boss Annette Hill to scale back her plans to just one event in Belfast on September 20.
The Children's Commissioner for Northern Ireland Patricia Lewsley-Mooney told the Belfast Telegraph the best interests of the children must be paramount.
"I am concerned that putting young children in this sort of position may not be in their best interests," she said.
"I acknowledge the role that parents and guardians have in making good choices for their children.
"Decisions such as this must be based on the best interests of their child."
SDLP councillor Claire Hanna, a mother of two girls, said this type of event horrifies her.
"I don't think this is healthy," she said.
"Children, particularly young girls, already get far too many messages that their worth is based on their looks.
"This is a hyper example of that. Particularly in formative years we need to be building children's confidence, we need to build understanding that they are who they are and what they do, not just what they look like.
"I understand people are proud of their kids but there are better ways for them to be competitive, like through dancing or sport."
Ms Hill said the Belfast pageant would be free for contestants to enter this time round as a goodwill gesture to make up for chaotic scenes that marred last year's event, which – after a sudden cancellation by a Dublin hotel – was eventually hosted in a much smaller venue in Castleblayney.
Dozens of angry parents stormed out of the rearranged pageant last year, furious that organisers had left it until the last minute to inform them of the location of the new venue.
Ms Hill vowed not to repeat the mistakes of last year and revealed she would be travelling with a much larger crew and entourage.
According to its website the Universal Royalty Miss Texas Beauty Pageant is for babies, toddlers and teens. Every child receives an award and prizes are offered.
The company Facebook page has more than 15,000 fans. Children taking part wear gowns and have full hair and make up done, making them look very much like miniature versions of adult beauty contest entrants.
This type of event triggers outrage among children's watchdogs, who express concern about the long-term effects on participating youngsters and who they say are being exploited, sexualised and encouraged to be obsessive about their appearances.