Pageants over-sexualize children, steal childhood innocence


When I was 6 years old, I dressed up Barbies in ridiculous outfits and played make-believe with my little sister in our backyard. I only got really dressed up for holidays and special occasions and had elaborately curled and hair-sprayed hair for dance performances.

I didn’t really care what I looked like. I mean, I had a favorite dress or two and absolutely refused to wear turtleneck shirts, but I didn’t spend any time in front of the mirror, and makeup was just that stuff grown-ups put on their faces for some mysterious reason. That seems fairly normal to me.

But for the young girls, sometimes boys and even infants that are involved with beauty pageants from a young age, my childhood is nowhere close to their idea of normal. TLC’s popular, or perhaps infamous, reality show, “Toddlers and Tiaras,” showcases the children and the families involved with beauty pageants.

Whether people are actually interested, have children of their own in pageants or flip to it in disbelief, the show that records the transformation of young children into idealized beauty queens has been on the air for multiple seasons.

Quite frankly, it’s more than a little creepy.

TLC’s website for the show notes that in these pageants, “toddlers take the stage wearing makeup, spray tans and fake hair to be judged on beauty, personality and costumes.”

Makeup? Spray tans and fake hair? But the show is about toddlers? That’s not even mentioning the false eyelashes and fingernails, the “flipper” or fake teeth, the airbrushed photos and over-the-top dresses. But wait, we’re still talking about little kids, right?

To me, that’s where it gets weird.

Little kids, no matter how many times in the interviews they say that they love pageants and want to do them, are getting powdered, curled, dressed and transformed into tiny adult beauty queens. It’s unrealistic, age inappropriate and uncomfortably sexualized.

One mom even tried to get her fair-haired daughter to permanently dye her eyelashes, even though she didn’t want to, to avoid the daughter’s mascara running on the occasions that she would cry before going on stage. The mother attempted to guilt trip the daughter, saying that “even Daddy thinks it’s a good idea.”

I was appalled — it’s supposed to be appalling, that’s what gets the good ratings, but even so, the people on the show are real and I’m concerned about what real impacts these pageants and shows have on the children involved.

These are children, and they’re wearing the same false fingernails, eyelashes, makeup and spray tans that many adult women wear when they’re trying to be “sexy.” They’re paraded around in front of judges and broadcasted on national TV. They’re judged on their pseudo-adult faces and dresses, not to mention the self-esteem-ruining critiques on their personalities.

So why do they do it? Well, the show’s website says the cameras follow “families on their quest for sparkly crowns, big titles and lots of cash.” Sure, maybe some of the little girls daydream about winning a glittery crown, I even daydreamed about being a fairy princess, but who is really in it for the money?

The parents, because “every parent wants to prove that their child is beautiful,” according to the website.

There is simply so much wrong with that statement. No one should have to feel like they need to prove their child is beautiful, and every child is truly beautiful. They don’t need the layers of makeup and outfits as expensive as a wedding dress to be beautiful. All children should be beautiful to their loved ones and to everyone else simply as a child.

I have to wonder how the children feel. When I was growing up, I never felt as though I had to prove myself to my parents, whether it was proving my intelligence, my likeability, my looks or anything else. I think that’s healthy. I couldn’t imagine the stress as a child of not feeling like I was good enough for my parents.

Childhood is a creative, imaginative, unique time of life, but pageants like these are rushing children past childhood, past adolescence and into adulthood, turning them into abnormally sexualized dolls. Whatever happened to being a kid and playing outside in the rain or ripping up a pair of jeans climbing trees? Sure, maybe they do it on the weekends, but it seems like nearly all of their “free” time is spent with beauty treatments, pageant coaches and practicing routines.

Not only are these children missing out on vital childhood experiences, they’re deprived of their individuality and that oblivious innocence children have for grubby hands, wild hair and crazy mismatched outfits. They’re really not like children at all, but little mannequins directed by the whims of adults and television directors.

I’m not placing the blame directly on the parents, though, it’s on everyone. Girls are sexualized at younger and younger ages thanks to makeup and fashion marketing targeted at pre-adolescents and teens, the commonplace availability of provocative clothing and shows like this. Little kids are playing with Bratz dolls dressed like prostitutes and teenagers are getting banned from school dances for barely-there clothing and dirty dancing.

Realize what these shows are doing to children and maybe the interest in watching little kids paraded around looking like adults will cease. What happened to letting kids be kids?


Kaylea Pallister is attending graduate school fall 2012. Please send all comments to