Recently on Mercatornet we ran an article
about the way little girls like to dress up as fairy-tale princesses — and the
related trend of girls embracing the frilly and the feminine. We defended these
as largely positive tropes in youth culture: let girls be girls, and let them
discover the virtues that “real” princesses display.

We are looking at a completely different phenomenon,
however, when it comes to child beauty pageants. These have become a live
issue in Australia
following the recent announcement by an American company
(Texas-based Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant) that it will stage one of these
shows in Melbourne at the end of July.

Grassroots groups and experts have launched a campaign to
stop this particular pageant and to ban all future attempts. “We don’t need
toxic US child beauty pageants … where little girls are turned into tarted-up
dolls in a grotesque parody of mini adults,” says Melinda Tankard Reist of Collective

Toxic? Too strong? Not when you look at the pictures. Not
when you remember the still unsolved murder of the six-year-old American “beauty
queen” Jon Benet Ramsey. Not when you have seen — according to those who have
— the US documentary Toddlers and Tiaras. This is the sort of thing it shows:

One of the alarming images of the documentary that has been shown on both
free-to-air and pay television was the distraught four-year-old who was forced
to endure having her eyebrows waxed, and who screamed in agony throughout the

Toddlers and Tiaras also documented children as young as three or four years
old, decked out in false eyelashes and hair extensions, wearing push-up padded
bras as they suggestively wiggled their hips in two piece spangled outfits.
There were other little girls wearing fake painted nails, high heels, fishnet
stockings and fake tans whose mothers insisted they have botox treatments and
who camouflaged any gaps in their teeth by wearing fitted fake whiter than
white sets that clipped over the top of their own.

You can see the distressing sequence about the eyebrow
waxing on a short video here.

How on earth do people defend this adultification and sexualisation
of little girls? One mother in an Australian TV interview (see video on this
) believes the business is generally not like Toddlers and Tiaras, but
just “fun — like playing Barbie”. A promoter, who refers to the children as “young
ladies”, reckons the show will foster “a positive, fun-filled atmosphere” by encouraging
self-confidence, education and “striving to be your very best”. But “best”, as
Melinda Tankard Reist points out, refers only to physical appearance:

“Competing in these events very young children are
taught very early that their only value comes from their appearance and the way
they look,” she says. “This in turn leads to emotional problems,
eating disorders and a distorted sense of self worth and self esteem.”

Leading Australian child psychologist Dr Ruth Schmidt Neven goes
further, saying that the pageants transform children into “paedophile fantasies”.
She says the right of children “to be children” is being contravened and she
wants the UN to look into it.

can expect to hear more about this row as the anti-pageant campaign lobbies the
Victoria parliament. Meanwhile you can sign an international petition launched
by Collective Shout at:

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet