Belfast Telegraph

Why there's nothing beautiful about judging little girls

By Jane Graham

Beauty pageants aren't about beauty, a 14-year-old pageant devotee told the BBC this week. They're about confidence. Jasmine was one of many who called BBC 5Live to cheer the growing popularity of child beauty pageants in the UK and explain to all the disapproving doubting Thomasinas out there that such contests have no impact beyond sending home a bunch of happy, fulfilled little girls at the end of a fun-filled day.

Ok, so most of the contestants may have been officially dubbed 'losers' (no one likes to use this term, but it's kind of unavoidable when the activity involves crowning a winner).

But they've been able to showcase wonderful talents like walking down a catwalk, mastering a Tyra Banks-style 'smize' (a smile with the eyes that supermodels are all brilliant at), and twirling a majorette baton.

The main thing, we heard over and over again, was that these contests were great for little girls' confidence. I suppose the more you enter your child in such competitions, and she learns how to parade in front of strangers before being told she's not as beautiful – sorry, not as all-round attractive, due to not being as pretty OR talented – as the petite blonde next to her, the more confident she must become.

The beauty pageant organisers hate talking about beauty. They might judge it. And in the 'glitz' contests, in which toddlers are regularly dipped in fake tan, slimed with red lipstick and taught to flutter false eyelashes, they might encourage parents to manipulate it. But they don't like to acknowledge it publicly.

Instead they prefer to focus on what a huge part 'personality' plays in helping them choose the best child. Perhaps it's this which provoked children's charity Kidscape's recent call to ban under eights from the whole scene. It's hard enough for a girl of seven to be told she's not as pretty as another.

Being told she also doesn't have as appealing a personality is even tougher. Throw in her proven lack of promise in the talent stakes, and you could have a beaten-up psyche on your hands which might never heal.

It's horrible when the school bully tells you people don't like you. Having a panel of adults validate it must be quite a kick in the teeth. Imagine how many confidence-boosting beauty pageants it's going to take to fix that!

There must have been a time, maybe in the Seventies, when women believed social equality was but a generation away. Strides had been taken, advancements which surely could not be reversed. How those women must balk when they see the huge numbers of girls currently heading towards eating disorders and depression due to a lack of confidence based solely on a dissatisfaction with their appearance.

Boys (not all, but most) post Facebook pictures of themselves and their friends in the most humiliating states of inebriation, rejection or plain bad dress, laugh at each other, and move on. Teenage girls increasingly use social media to create fraudulent, physically improved versions of themselves, fret over unflattering 'tagged' photos, and take an hour to get made up and dressed for supposedly impromptu selfies, which have simply become a more dignified way of advertising oneself online. 'Here's an off-the-cuff shot of me at a gig ... don't I look terrible? You think I look great? You must be crazy!' So goes the fantasy.

We simply must stop putting girls up against girls, whether on the basis of beauty or 'personality'. It's a one-way ticket to trauma and social imbalance and in 2014, it should be a big national 'NO' from all of us.

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