Belfast Telegraph

You've got to be kidding... councillors slam plan to bring child beauty pageants here

BY ANNA MAGUIRE AND NICK BRAMHILL

It has been accused of sexualising young girls – and there are plans to bring it to Belfast.

But organisers of a controversial children's beauty pageant have been warned they are not welcome in Northern Ireland after proposals to come here were announced.

Annette Hill, owner of Texas-based Universal Royalty, has revealed her intention to stage a US-style pageant in Belfast and three locations in the Republic of Ireland next year.

"There's a huge demand for children's pageants. And because of that I'm going to look into holding regional events here in the future in places like Cork, Galway and Belfast, as well as Dublin," she said.

The company's hosting of its first children's beauty pageant in the Republic on Saturday was thrown into chaos after management at its first-choice Dublin hotel cancelled the booking at the last minute.

The Bracken Court pulled out on Thursday, claiming that it had not been informed of the true nature of the planned event.

Pageant chiefs were forced to stage a slimmed-down contest with just 30 contestants at a smaller venue in Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, on Saturday.

But the weekend event continues to court controversy after stunned observers watched a bikini-clad six-year-old contestant dance to Feeling Hot Hot Hot.

Speaking afterwards, Universal Royalty boss Ms Hill revealed plans to extend the event to Belfast.

But Belfast councillors Claire Hanna and Tierna Cunningham have thrown their weight behind those opposed to the event.

Ms Hanna said: "As the mum of a young daughter I find them really distasteful. "When I heard that a six-year-old was dancing to Feeling Hot Hot Hot, I actually felt sick.

"I would hope that this would not happen in Belfast and that parents would not entertain this."

She echoed concerns that such pageants risk sexualising young girls.

"Girls, particularly, get damaging messages throughout their childhood, pejorative messages that leave a mark on them.

"Unfortunately sexualisation of children is all around us. It is not just beauty pageants, but they do send out the wrong message."

Worried organisers of Saturday's event went to extreme lengths to keep details of the new venue secret. Parents of participating youngsters were not informed of the new venue's whereabouts until shortly before midnight on Friday – prompting 20 parents to pull their children out of the event.

The French Parliament banned these type of events earlier this month on the grounds that they promote the "hyper-sexualisation" of minors.

"These pageants sexualise young girls, absolutely," mother-of- one Ms Cunningham, added.

"I would not be happy at this coming to Belfast. I know parents like to express their pride, but I would draw the line at this. These pageants put huge pressure on children at a young age to conform to a certain look."

On Universal Royality's website, Ms Hill said the pageant's aim was to provide "a positive learning experience for contestants to learn competition, positive self-confidence and striving to be the very best".

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