“The Ugly Side of Beauty,” Kerri Brosier (2014) — Inquiry 3

Writer’s Reflection Letter

Writing a research paper is not an easy task. Choosing a relevant, interesting topic and finding adequate information to support the claims is difficult to accomplish effectively. Picking a topic was a challenging task alone. I wanted to write this paper on a subject that was relevant to this time, and also something that would keep the audience engaged and entertained. After contemplating what topic to do, I came up with the idea of child beauty pageants and how they should be banned in the United States. I ended up choosing this topic because it is unique and extremely interesting.

I have always watched the show “Toddlers and Tiaras” on TLC since it first aired a few years ago. I laughed at the absurd outfits and the overzealous pageant mothers. I never really watched it though, until I decided to focus on this subject for my essay. I was completely unaware of the messages that were being portrayed through this show. As a young woman, I am constantly reminded of society’s concept of beauty. Thin, flawless, and picturesque women are represented through the media, as well as child beauty pageants. Personally, this topic hit home for me because I can easily relate to how women are viewed in society and how these pageants contribute to the negative view women have. Because child beauty pageants are so popular today, finding credible source material, as well as providing my own reasoning, was not challenging. However, writing this essay was much harder to do than I had anticipated because I had so many thoughts and ideas running through my head. Basically, I did not know where to begin.

Writing the refutation and concession portion of this essay was a serious challenge for me. I rewrote it three times in an effort to make it stronger each time. Writing the final draft was also a challenge because I had taken the rough draft so seriously. I put so much time into making my rough draft perfect, that finding things to change (other than my refutation and concession section) was hard to do. However, I put a lot of thought into each part and was able to make it even better than it was before. At this point, I would not want to change anything about my paper. Through writing this essay, I have learned exactly how difficult it is to do a research paper. Citing things correctly, and finding adequate information was something that really challenged me at times. I hope that after reading this essay, the audience will realize what society tells us about beauty, and how glitz pageants are not so perfect after all.


The Ugly Side of Beauty

She walks out onto the stage under a single spotlight. All eyes are on her as she radiates her prize winning smile through the crowd with shockingly white teeth and rose colored lips. The judges can’t help but give her their mediocre smiles right back. Her thousand dollar hand sewn gown is covered with jewels that reflect light in a million different colors. The crowd is in admiration as she does a slight turn to entice them. After giving them a kiss and wink over the shoulder, the young pageant star walks off the stage after her sixty seconds of glory into a world that will ruin her. Ten years later, the young girl is suffering from an eating disorder because she does not feel thin enough. She refuses to leave the house without wearing makeup because she feels she is not pretty without it. Her grades are suffering because she believes her self-worth is not more than skin deep. She is depressed and exhausted from the need to feel perfect all the time. With child beauty pageants at the peak of their popularity today, they irrefutably shape the minds of young girls whether they participate in them or not. These contests are setting an impossibly high standard for women that simply cannot be reached. Child beauty pageants should be banned because of the damaging effects they have on young girls and society as a whole.

The billion dollar pageant industry is rapidly growing and will continue to grow exponentially due to the large amount of attention it has been receiving. According to ABC News, nearly 250,000 young girls participate in child beauty pageants every year within the United States (Canning, “On TLC’s ‘Toddlers & Tiaras”). Within these pageants little girls wear revealing dresses, hair extensions, fake nails, false teeth, and tons of makeup. Parents give their children energy drinks and candy in order to keep them perky and flawless for the competition after sleepless nights of preparation. The pageant world is a financially troubling and inappropriate process that children partake in or watch as a form of entertainment. Society as a whole is greatly affected by these contests even if an individual has no personal connections to the industry. When turning on the television today, it is normal to see women with perfect figures and flawless features. Society has constructed the ideal woman which every young girl sees in the back of her mind. The media has glamourized child beauty pageants through popular television networks. Young girls who watch television shows such as “Toddlers and Tiaras” or “Honey Boo Boo” may feel the pressure of dressing more desirably and sensually. Child beauty pageants teach girls across the nation that beauty is what defines us. If we are teaching our children that being beautiful is the key to success then serious consequences will arise in the future.

Struggling with the need to be perfect is not an uncommon feeling amongst young girls within the child beauty pageant world. When children are competing in a contest that is based on appearance, perfectionism is apparent at all times. The American Heritage College Dictionary defines perfectionism as “a propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards” (1034). Although many people may argue that striving for perfection is a good thing, doing so at such an early age is most likely to result in psychological problems and health issues. ABC News conducted an interview with a former child beauty pageant star, Brooke Breedwell, who indicated pageants had a negative impact on her life. Breedwell explained “I feel the need to be perfect at everything, and I know that’s not realistic. You can’t be perfect at everything” (Canning, “Former Beauty Queen Speaks Out”). With these impossibly high standards comes a negative self-image. Girls who participate in the pageants as children grow up with developmental problems that can lead to depression, eating disorders, and low self-esteem. Martina M. Cartwright, a registered dietitian (R.D) with a Ph.D. in Nutritional Science, came up with a term called “The Princess Syndrome.”  Cartwright stated “‘The Princess Syndrome’ as I like to call it, is a fairy tale. Unrealistic expectations to be thin, physically beautiful, and perfect are at the heart of some disordered eating behaviors and body dissatisfaction” (Cartwright).

Not only do child beauty pageants damage the participant’s self-image, but they also sexualize the girls making them appear as objects to society. Through these pageants children are not only exploited, but taught that being sensual is a way of gaining attention. Because the pageants are allowing young girls to dress up in minimal clothing and dance provocatively, pedophilia has also increased. Popular television shows such as TLC’s “Toddlers and Tiaras” sexualize and glamorize the pageant world. According to Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for the Parents Television Council, “parents assume the sexual content and innuendo in the programming they are watching will go over their child’s head, or think it’s cute to dress their child in sexy clothes or encourage her to imitate Beyonce’s dance moves so they can post it on YouTube” (Henson). For example, a three year old girl on “Toddlers and Tiaras” wore a costume that mimicked the prostitute played by Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman” (Henson). If the parents of these children do not see a problem with dressing their child as a prostitute, then what does this say about the society we live in?

You may be wondering why child beauty pageants are being targeted and not the entire beauty pageant industry. Adult beauty pageants are significantly less harmful than child beauty pageants. During adolescence is when children learn how to think on their own, make decisions, and essentially form a basis for who they will become. Kids absorb information like sponges: they take in what they are taught and retain it. If children are raised based on ethics, intellect, and inner beauty then they will grow into adults with those same characteristics. They will develop into adults that will be able to make their own decisions based on what is morally right. Therefore, society will change and become more accepting and less harmful to women and young girls. If child beauty pageants were to be banned, girls across the nation would not be exposed to a world where they are exploited, sexualized, or feel as though they must obtain a certain image in order to be accepted by society.

Within the past few months, France has formally banned child beauty pageants for children under the age of sixteen. The country saw these contests as a serious danger to society, and destructive to the girls who participated in them. According to NBC News, in the nation of France violators will be fined 30,000 euros and face possible jail time (Charlton). Conservative lawmaker in France and an author of the amendment, Chantal Juoanno, stated “at this age, you need to concentrate on acquiring knowledge” (qtd. in Charlton).  In the United States, beauty pageants are more prevalent than ever before and much more popular than they are in France. (Eveleth, “France Bans Pageants, America Unlikely to Follow”). If France was able to pass a law banning these contests, then America and other nations who host these pageants should as well. Banning these pageants is both logical and possible. However, America is making a large amount of money from the growing pageant industry due to the popularity and media attention it has been getting. Being morally wrong may not be enough to stop them alone.

Although child beauty pageants may cause harmful long term effects, many current pageant contestants and their mothers have said participating within the pageants develop social skills and boosts confidence. Even though they may enjoy dressing up and receiving a large amount of compliments, living in the moment is easy to do when you are unaware of the long term consequences. Experts and retired pageant contestants have reported that the glitz is not so glamorous during adulthood. According to former pageant participant Heidi Gerkin “more than anything, pageants shaped my relationships with women. Most of my close relationships have been with men. That sounds really bad, but in the world of pageants you might perceive someone as your friend, and then they seek out weaknesses and turn that around on you” (“I Was a Child Pageant Star”). For several pageant girls, developing trust in future relationships is tarnished and difficult to do when going through these contests. “Even now, whenever I meet somebody, I question whether they really like me” explained Gerkin (“I Was a Child Pageant Star”). Heidi is not the only former pageant participant who struggles with forming relationships and deals with shattered confidence. Other retired contestants have said their relationships with their parents are damaged or broken. Children are often too young to make decisions on their own therefore it is ultimately the parent’s decision whether or not to place their child in a pageant.  The parents often invest a large amount of time and money in order to guarantee their child a high title. With that being said, the parents will do whatever it takes in order for their child to win which is sometimes too much for a young girl to bear.

If you had a daughter, would you want her to partake within these contests? Would you want her to be exposed to a world where judging others based on appearance is alright, and hating herself is acceptable because she doesn’t feel entirely perfect? Small steps can be made in order to take a stand against child beauty pageants. Petitioning or refraining from contributing to the contests in any way will help to ban these pageants once and for all. Americans are constantly exposed to these pageants, events, television shows, and other factors in society that we overlook because we are so used to seeing them. The ugly truth behind these contests has always been evident. Looking beyond the glitz and the glamour is sometimes hard to do, but underneath all the fake hair, makeup, and spray tan is a young girl who will live her life never feeling good enough.

Works Cited

The American Heritage College Dictionary. 4th ed. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2002. Print.

Canning, Andrea, and Jessica Hoffman Via. “Former Child Beauty Queen Speaks Out.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 13 Aug. 2009. Web. 28 Oct. 2013.

Canning, Andrea, and Jessica Hoffman Via. “On TLC’s ‘Toddlers & Tiaras,’ Little Divas Make Their Entrance.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 21 July 2009. Web. 28 Oct. 2013.

Cartwright, Martina M. “Child Beauty Pageants: What Are We Teaching Our Girls?” Web log post. Psychology Today. Sussex Publishes, LLC, 12 Aug. 2011. Web. 28 Oct. 2013.

Charlton, Angela. “France’s Senate Votes to Ban Child Beauty Pageants.” NBC News. World News, 18 Sept. 2013. Web. 29 Oct. 2013.

Eveleth, Rose. “France Bans Child Beauty Pageants, America Unlikely to Follow.”Smithsonian Magazine. Smithsonian, 20 Sept. 2013. Web. 14 Oct. 2013.

Henson, Melissa. “‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ and Sexualizing 3-year-olds.” CNN. Cable News Network, 01 Jan. 1970. Web. 29 Oct. 2013.

“I Was a Child Pageant Star: Six Adult Women Look Back.” The Cut. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Oct. 2013.