In 2009, The Learning Channel released what was to become an international sensation- the series

Toddlers and Tiaras. Diving into the world of high glitz pageants, where two year-olds are dressed and
made up to look like young adults, it has become a worldwide platform for criticism. The general
consensus of this series is that the children are being exploited; the often overweight and insecure
mothers live the life of glamour they once had, or never had, through forcing their children to pursue
this industry. These children are being exposed to the superficial world much too soon; they are being
taught that outer beauty gains inner worth. If one looks up any Youtube video clips from the series, the
comment section is flooded with harsh judgements, many boldly stating that pageants should be shut
down, because of the lifelong deprecating effects on a child’s self-esteem. The world of pageants has
evolved and moved far from its original intent- to teach poise and self-confidence, in hopes that they
will bring that to the stage as well as their everyday lives. However, in our culture, it is inevitable that
these important moral values would soon be overcome by materialism. One large contributing factor to
this is that pageant coordinators have free reign, they are free to run the pageants however they please.
Since there is no regulation or rules they have to follow, many pageants in South America make it
protocol that children must have a fake tan, hair pieces and full face makeup. According to the academic
artible “PROTECTING PAGEANT PRINCESSES”, Annie W. Mobley, a member of the North Carolina House
of Representatives, proposed a bill that suggests that all coordinators should follow a specific set of
regulations that are in favor of preserving the well-being of the children. Because this is a multi-million
dollar industry, it is unrealistic to think it will be subject to shutting down. However, through instilling
what pageants formally represented, and changing what the materialistic world has done to pageants
through creating strict regulations, the pageant world and the self-esteem of children everywhere can
be salvaged.
Despite the moral questioning of parents who exploit their children in high glitz beauty pageants, it has
been proven that without proper care and attention, this industry can have a destructive effect on a
child’s personal growth. Lieberman states that according to child psychologists, “competition inhibits
children from forming positive relationships with other kids”(752-753). Although competition is a part of
most sports and activities, this industry is highly individualized and children are being judged not only on
their abilities, but as well as their character. When a child steps on that stage, they smile the biggest
smile they can plaster on their faces, in hopes that the judges will love them. If the child succeeds, they
will leave the pageant feeling better than ever, knowing that the sash they wear around their neck and
the trophy in their hand has proven that they are worthy of love and affection. However, if a child leaves
empty handed, their underdeveloped minds can only come to the assumption that not only their looks,
but their personality was simply not good enough, and they will need to change in order to please.
Lieberman also supports this point, quoting a clinical psychologist William Pinsoff who reports that a
child focusing on changing themselves to impress others “unleash[es] a whole complex of destructive
self-experiences that can lead to eating disorders and all kinds of distortion in terms of body
image.”(qtd. in Lieberman, 753). It is only expected that parents will assume that their children can
handle this, as they might think understanding the realities of the materialistic world might help prepare
their children. But the fact is, without proper support and protection, these children will have a lot of
questions left unanswered and grow up with a confusing dedication to pleasing others and seeking
perfection.
Because the reality show Toddlers and Tiaras gains money through showcasing the negative side of child
beauty pageants, it is difficult to find its redeeming qualities. However, like any other hobby or sport,
even the act of wearing a pretty dress and walking across a stage can teach a child a good work ethic,
poise and self-confidence. In Skip Hollandsworth’s article Toddlers in Tiaras, she interviews a 39 year-old
woman named Nicole Eggert, who was one a pageant queen in the 1970’s. She describes the pageant
world when she was a child as a very relaxed and low key environment, “None of the kids had their hair
done, no one had makeup on; no one had custom-made gowns – it was a party dress from a store.” (qtd.
In Hollandsworth, 1). Back then, parents entered their children in beauty pageants to boost their self-
confidence, as well as a chance to win scholarships to help pay for college. In the pageant world today,
children can win prizes worth ten thousand dollars, presented in the form of a bursary that children will
be able to access when they are eighteen years old. Kristin Chenoweth, a well-known Broadway singer
and actress, claims that the pageant world did wonders for her. In an interview from Ok Magazine in
June of 2011, she explains that because of her pageant winnings, she was able to pay her tuition and get
a master’s degree, and it also taught her to love herself regardless of winning or losing. Although the
argument still stands that this industry has turned into a competition of who has the most expensive
dress and darkest tan, there is a part of the world that mainstream America is not aware of. There is
another branch of this contest called natural pageants, where girls compete in regular clothing and little
to no makeup. There is no mechanism to how they present themselves when their names are called-
they are simply told to go on stage, smile and show their personality and who they truly are. This type
of confidence is something that the pageant world has the precious opportunity to teach, but it is
getting trampled by society’s obsession with materialism. Chloe, a young nineteen year-old who
participates in the pageant circuit around Vancouver, describes her experience as anything but self-
deprecating. “I always had the support and unconditional love of my family, and from a young age they
always taught me that it didn’t matter whether I won or lost, the fact that I was brave enough to get up
there and do what I practiced”, she explains. She also adds that there can be a lot more to a pageant
than what is shown on television, “I had to do a lot of practicing for the talent and interview portion.
They don’t want someone who is uneducated and not well-spoken, and competing really taught me how
to speak properly for myself.” It is these ideologies that should be instilled in children involved in the
pageant circuit, and not the current obsession with outer beauty and validation.
Now that it has been addressed that there are both positive and negative sides to the pageant world,
the question remains- what can be done about this? One main point is that children being at risk of
lifelong obsessions with being perfect cannot simply be blamed on the world of beauty pageants. This
comes from many forms of media, as Hollywood stars are studied on television and people long to live
their seemingly perfect lives. In the academic article Childhood Beauty Pageant Contestants:
Associations With Adult Disordered Eating and Mental Health, author A. L. Wonderlich et al report that
this obsession began in the 1970’s, stating that the ideal body type that women aspire to be has
decreased a shocking 90% since The PlayBoy circuit began in 1960 (2). The teens of this generation grew
up with this insecurity; and once they had children, they vowed to give them the chance to be perfect.
Lieberman supports this statement, explaining that “parents live vicariously through their children and
push them towards achievement to buttress their own senses of adequacy or self-worth” (757). The
first thing that needs to be done in order to salvage what this industry used to represent is the mindset
of the parents. The reality is this world is full of judgement based on physical appearance; it is
something that cannot be avoided. However, with the proper support of family, children can grow up
and gain only the positive values of these pageants. They need to remember their number one priority
as a parent: to act as a guardian and a protector. Through spraying their children with dangerous
chemicals, covering up the hair and face they were born with in order to win a trophy, what is the lesson
being taught? These children need to be shown that confidence is what matters, and that they are
beautiful even without makeup. If a parent were to celebrate their child regardless of win or loss, they
will know that no matter what, they are enough. In terms of regulations and how pageants are run,
several changes need to be made. The bill proposed by Mobley addresses a number of these changes.
For example, she inquires that pageant coordinators should have to undergo questioning and receive a
certificate from the government, with an understanding that they have the right qualifications to work
safely with children (Lieberman, 771). This will ensure that all pageant coordinators are properly
educated in children’s psychology, showing that they are aware of the possible negative effects their
rulings can have on children and will change them accordingly. Another factor that needs to be changed
is the overuse of appearance-altering products. Makeup should be used to only enhance what the
child’s genetics have given them, not to change them completely. In many pageants, points will be taken
off if the child is not wearing false teeth, or has not been tanned. The focus needs to go back to the
child’s personality, their stage presence and how they move on stage, rather than simply what in on
their body. If this ideology can be restored, it will do wonders to the children’s self-esteem, as well as
the criticisms being thrown at the pageant world.
To conclude, in any type of sport or activity, children are exposed to heavy competition and the
possibility of extreme disappointment. Not only in child pageants are parents obsessed with winning-
watch any little league baseball team games, and you will see a child’s parent march right up to the
umpire, screaming profanities over a little call of whether or not the child was safe or out. It is because
the pageant world also involves the sensitive topic of women and self-esteem, a major movement in
mainstream news today, that it is receiving such disapproval. If there is one thing to be taken away from
this, it is that it is not the act itself that needs to be terminated, but simply re-evaluated and refined to
suit the needs of a child’s healthy growth. It is true that one day, these children will grow up and be
exposed to the world that prioritizes outer beauty. It is important that from day one, before pageants,
before any kind of activity whatsoever, that the parent teaches them the importance of self-worth. For
the sake of the contest, they must wear fancy dresses and makeup to suit the qualifications to compete.
However, it does not in any way make them worth more love and affection. Whether they win or lose,
the reward and the celebration must come from the fact that they did their best, rather than the trophy,
sashes and money. If Mobley’s bill were to be passed, many changes could be made and children, as
well as the parents, can safely continue and benefit from the experience