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The child beauty pageant is a beauty contest featuring contestants under 18. Competition categories may include talent, meeting, sportswear, casual wear, swimwear, western wear, theme wear, outfit of choice, period wear, and twilight wear. Dependent on the type of pageant system (glamour or natural), contestants may wear anything from makeup to fake teeth, known as flippers, elaborate hairstyles, and custom-designed formfitting outfits to present their routines on stage.
Beauty pageants started in 1921 when the holder of an Atlantic City hotel launched the idea to help boost tourism. However, that idea had already spread through “Most Beautiful Child” competitions in cities across the country. The Little Miss America pageant started in the 1960s at Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. Initially, it was for young people from 13 to 17 years old, but by 1964 there were over 35,000 contestants, which encouraged an age division. The modern child beauty pageant developed in the early 1960s, held in Miami, Florida. Since then, the industry has grown up to include about 250,000 pageants. It is an increasingly lucrative business, bringing about twenty billion dollars a year to the Americas and spreading its popularity worldwide.
It has grown from senior beauty pageants, previously originating from South America, particularly in Venezuela, to an event held worldwide for young boys and girls, emphasizing competitions promoted by mainstream media in the United States, to much disapproval.
The murder of JonBenet Ramsey in 1996 turned public attention to child beauty pageants. Critics began to question the morals of parents presenting their children in a way that might not suit their age. In 2001, American System HBO aired its Emmy-winning Living Dolls: The Making of a Child Beauty Queen, which gathered much attention. Additionally, TLC, an American network, has formed shows such as Toddlers & Tiaras and king of the Crown, the former devoted to the world of high-glitz child pageantry and the latter to the world of pageant coaching.
Parents sometimes disapprove of entering their children in pageants. Pageants reinforce a superficial, modern type of femininity by holding young girls to a “beauty” standard involving makeup and spray tans. One historian, Shelby Colene Pannell, questions why parents would freely subject their kids to gender socialization in such an exciting system.
Families on TLC’s TV series Toddlers&Tiaras are subject to intense disapproval for destructively prompting their children that their physical appearance will score attention and prizes. The show was first declared in 2009 and followed the child contestants and their parents as they prepared for the upcoming beauty pageant of the weekend. The show is non-narrated to avoid showing judgment and has glowed heavy controversy due to actions as well as allowing a child to smoke a fake cigarette through the talent portion of the competition, forcing a child to wear counterfeit breasts, a parent who allowed her child to costume like a prostitute in the “outfit of choice” group, and waxing/threading a kid’s facial and body hair to give them a glowing occurrence on stage
Sexualization in Child Beauty Pageants
Sexualization in child beauty pageants has been a topic of controversy and debate. Since all the contestants for child beauty pageants are minors, there are concerns regarding the potential long-term negative impacts early sexualization can have on these children’s psyche. The negative consequences can affect the contestant’s self-esteem and relationship with their bodies throughout their lives due to hyper-fixation on achieving excellent adult aesthetics at a young age. In more extreme cases, early sexualization in pageants’ psychological impacts can lead to psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. However, there is also the support of children competing in beauty pageants because they challenge children to have more confidence to compete successfully.
Child beauty pageants can cause severe effects on a child’s mental issues, frustration, weight disorders, and depression.