For many years, I believed that parents should not dictate how children should lives their lives, but I was oblivious. It had not occurred to me the importance of a good structural foundation, until I witnessed the alternative extreme, apparent in child beauty pageants. It occurred to me, while watching Toddlers and Tiaras, that by enabling children to deck themselves out in revealing attire and to compete in pageants, we rob them of their dignity and stunt their growth by teaching them the wrong life values. These pageants encourage children, particularly younger girls, to compare their physical appearances to that of their competitors and aim for absolute perfection, which often causes them to push themselves to risqué extremes. The exploitation of young ladies, such as JonBenet Ramsey, leads me to believe that toddler pageants should be prohibited in the United States. These children expose themselves without realizing the message that their actions send, primarily because we allow mothers to take advantage of their ignorance.
I believe that toddler pageants are merely a crude and egotistical method for mothers to live vicariously through the experiences of their child. Their efforts include spending thousands of dollars on stylists and mentors, scolding their children for their shortcomings, and convincing themselves that it all serves some kind of significant purpose. The parents suffocate their children with tremendous amounts of unnecessary pressure in hopes that the investment will pay off. “The only way I could see him not winning this pageant is if he fell over dead.” (Pageant-crazed mother, Toddlers and Tiaras) This quote exemplifies the twisted logic that pervades the atmosphere of the pageants. “All children are beautiful, it’s just that some are more beautiful than others.” (Another pageant-crazed mother, Toddlers and Tiaras). Clearly, the competitive pageant environment had triggered this impulsive reaction of poor sportsmanship. Not only are these pageants unjust to the child participants who have been subjected to exploitation by their self-absorbed elders, but also to the younger female viewers who are brainwashed into believing that marching around like a stripper and wearing excessive amounts of makeup will somehow earn them meaningful approval from society.
To the outsider, these toddler pageants appear to reward child performers for their sexually-charged performances, rather than actual “talent.” While presenting a true talent such as singing or ballet is acceptable, dancing around in a Playboy bunny suit while being evaluated by a room full of people would shock the conscience of most mainstream individuals. I believe that these humiliating acts are not only sexualizing, but also destructive to the child’s innocence and overall development. “The emphasis on physical perfection may put young girls at risk for adult body dissatisfaction and potentially eating disorders” (Professor Cartwright from the University of Arizona). This demonstrates that the pleasant-sounding idea of fame and pageantry fails to outweigh the consequences, which proved extremely unfortunate for six-year-old pageant girl JonBenet Ramsey.
The unsettling sexual nature of the pageants was made public in the United States in 1997, after the assault and murder of JonBenet Ramsey. Nobody fully recognized this form of objectification until the Ramsey case, which opened peoples’ eyes to the problem created by toddler pageants. However, despite the attention drawn to the pageants, nothing seems to have changed. In fact, judging by the trending television shows, they have only grown in popularity.
I think that we, as a society, should put an end to the sexual exploitation of young children by banning toddler pageants in the United States once and for all. Clearly, the parents focus on earning money and fame rather than considering the better interests of their child. This, I believe, damages the contestants’ development and teaches them that the score they receive from the judges defines their worth. We do not know whether or not JonBenet Ramsey’s title as a beauty queen factored into her murder, but we do know that we can take a stand against this child objectification.