Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

A princess for a day? It's more like Crufts for children

Crowned: Beauty contest winner

An American children's beauty pageant coming to Ireland next week bills itself as an innocuous way to turn little girls into a princess for a day. But really, it's the parents who are searching for a fairytale.

There is something deeply creepy about beauty pageants for toddlers and young children, in which they are doused in fake tan, slathered in make-up and paraded for adults' amusement in age-inappropriate costumes.

Most people appear to feel the same, which is why the Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant has had such difficulty in finding a venue.

Already, one hotel has pulled out and an alternative venue was only found after 28 others refused to get involved.

With little more than a week to go, the exact location of the pageant is still shrouded in secrecy. Evidently, the hotel doesn't want the publicity.

Organiser, Annette Hill, dismissed suggestions that pageants promote a hyper-sexualised image of children, saying that anybody with that opinion is projecting their own "disturbing" and "disgusting" views on to children.

So, if you see a three-year-old with hair extensions and wearing a glittery evening gown and think the ensemble inappropriate, the problem is your sick mind.

Hill's self-serving bluster aside, the pageant is nothing more than a tacky money-making racket, with one message relentlessly reinforced: physical appearance is a girl's most important attribute.

Entry costs for these shows are typically £125, with parents spending huge amounts of money on clothes, accessories, cosmetics and professional photography.

While naive parents may view participation as benign, psychologists say pageants have long-lasting, harmful effects.

A report published by French Senator Chantal Jouanno last year, Against Hyper-Sexualisation: A New Fight for Equality, revealed the sexualisation of young girls causes "psychological damage that is irreversible in 80% of cases".

This damage manifests itself in many ways, including eating disorders and low self-esteem.

This is not rocket science. It is not hard to see how enrolling your toddler daughter in a beauty pageant, where she is pitted against other children and judged on her appearance, could reinforce an unhealthy body-image.

So, why do parents do it? Because they are selfishly using their children to vicariously live out their own thwarted dreams.

A paper published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in 2011 labelled this phenomenon 'princess by proxy'.

Sociology professor, Frank Furedi, said: "These pageants are not for children to entertain other children. It's for adults. It's a couple of steps up from Crufts."

In the United States, where these pageants are a £4bn industry, the cash prizes for winners can be huge, leading to enormous pressure being placed on children to win.

Instead of making your daughter a 'princess for a day', by entering a trashy beauty pageant, why not teach her that her brain is just as important as her body when gauging her self-worth.

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