Friday, January 9, 2015

The Pageantmonster

     There are so many things I don't understand about child beauty contests. You've heard about them, I'm sure, and have maybe even seen some of the little 4 and 5 and 6 year olds who all kind of look like Joan Collins. I'm not going to lie to you; these children kind of scare me.
     I don't understand what kind of mother needs a contest to find out if her baby is pretty or not. I thought all mothers found their kids to be the prettiest ones in the world. I'm pretty sure that's how it's supposed to go. But some mothers feel the need to find out for sure, and hopefully with a trophy they can look at anytime they feel unsure about it.
     And when these women enter their children into these contests they are truly competing with the other mothers. In my opinion every single one of these pageants should be called the My Kid Is Cuter Than Your Kid pageant, because that's really what the pageant mothers are saying.
     Again, what kind of mother would say that to another mother: "My kid is cuter than your kid." In no corner of any culture would that be acceptable. Unless the women have a loophole like these pageants.
     If the children involved just wore pretty dresses and walked out and twirled around and walked back offstage again, I'd still be against it. Because you're teaching your little girl that being pretty matters. A whole lot. And that if you lose it means You Weren't Pretty Enough. And you're certainly teaching her that looks matter because her looks obviously matter to YOU.
     But these parents, already wrong, now go many steps further. So far that you aren't sure whether to laugh or make a face. I'm guessing they make you do both. These children, 4, 5, 6 years old all wearing full faces of makeup. You think I mean they're wearing lipstick. Ha ha ha. Of course lipstick but also lipLINER. And yes foundation but also three different shades to highlight and lowlight. Duh. And of course 2-3 shades of blusher because you must CONTOUR THE CHEEKBONES OF A FOUR YEAR OLD or else she will not look like Joan Collins.
     Bronzer, eyeshadow, eyeliner, false eyelashes. Well you need to wear false eyelashes because when the little children wear mascara it tends to run all down their faces when they lose and then cry. Not very pretty! No tears with false eyelashes though, and these little girls usually have two sets, one for daytime, extra long for evening. And when the little children smile onstage their teeth look perfect because they're wearing dental inserts so they look that way. No gap tooth smiles for them because looking like a normal child could cost you that trophy.
     Wigs. And removable hairpieces. Message to child: your own hair is ugly. We need to pretend your hair is pretty.
     Allover spray tans, artificial fingernails, support garments. For the people, mostly men, who have no idea what that means: it means girdles for four year olds. Some of these garments worn under the dresses not only suck in the childlike tummies, they also have padding for the chest area and rear. How these parents explain this to their children, I don't know, and don't want to know.
     It does make me wish I could call each of the mothers and just offer to BUY them a trophy and offer to engrave anything they want on it, rather than have them put their children through this kind of warped experience. And there are a million of these pageants. It isn't just a once a year thing. They have numerous pageants and so many winners and so many trophies that I have to think the concept of winning would become confusing after awhile.
     Even if your child wins, did she win a Good Contest? Was it one of the bigger pageants or one of the smaller ones? And just winning isn't good enough. The children are expected to be able to recite their Win Resumes: I got Miss this and Miss this and Miss this. They go year round. The child never has a season without one. There is never a time for the contest to be DONE so that the kid can relearn how to act normally and regain self esteem and maybe engage in regular childlike fun. Because you need to be training for the next pageant and the next.
     Hey, maybe it's the child's fault for being born pretty. Or not pretty enough. Or the kind of pretty you need to put up to a vote from strangers. At least according to their mothers, the ones who you'd think would be hugging them after they've scraped their knees and instead are shouting at them from offstage and getting them fitted for high heels.
     I don't know what the fathers of these little girls think when they need to take out a bank loan to cover the entry fees and the costs of the gowns and the talent coaches and the makeup artists. I imagine the fathers don't say a darn thing because they've learned the hard way, where the pageants are concerned, to let the mom be in charge. The time they should have spoken up was right at the beginning, back when the Pageantmonster was small.
     You see the monster isn't the child and isn't even the mother. It's the mental imbalance induced by the lure of the pageant and it infects the mother and the child. The monster triples in size the first time the little girl loses a pageant. The mother has little time to comfort her confused and crying child because she is busy being livid and envisioning a Stephen King-like bucket of pig blood being spilled on the little girl who did win.
     The pageant mothers invariably insist that THEY are not the ones encouraging the pageants, that the children themselves just beg and beg to be in them. I doubt that's true but even if it is, the mothers need to tell them no. They need to keep telling them no. And they need to explain to their daughters why they are saying no, in terms the child can understand.
     Imagine, if you will, the different times in a child's life when he or she might be competing for something. Imagine the Spelling Bees and the Trying Out For Sports Teams, imagine anything where some kids win and some kids go home in tears because they didn't win. Kids feel those hurts deeply. And those are older children--10,12,15, who would have had time to have some kind of solid self esteem prior to entering the contest. The kind old enough to have at least some perspective about how important the contest is in their lives.
     So since your child already has all of those hurts to look forward to, why would you want them to have to start early and at an age too young to have any perspective? At an age when the child's self esteem is an iffy thing? Not only are you risking not building a strong sense of self, empathy, perspective, you're actually damaging their ability to ever have those things in full measure.
     I wonder about those pageant children. After all, children can't really be blamed when they're raised with certain ideas and then those ideas come flying out of their mouths in day to day situations. Imagine the child whose closet is stocked with $500 hand sewn rhinestone covered dresses commenting to the classmate who came to school thinking she was wearing a pretty dress because it was blue and had a butterfly on it.
     Imagine the pageant child who has been taught to avoid things like monkeybars because they can lead to serious things like scabs on knees and bruises on shins. Not very pretty! Imagine this child, somehow never really feeling like she's won, and all mixed up because she is surrounded by children who do not seem to understand the value of the superficial. Imagine her confusion when those simpleton children who act like children seem to be happy. That child must wonder: are they wrong or am I?
     If little girls claim to wish for crowns, their mothers need to take them to a store like Toys R Us and go to the aisle where they sell toy tiaras and they need to show the kid how the store sells lots and lots of crowns, not just one. That's because every kid who wants one should get to be a princess. And that it's a dress up game, not a job title or an ambition. You don't need to earn it; I pay money and buy it because it's a toy.
     And then later at home if the little girl wants to PLAY princess, go for it. Let her put on her five dollar pink fluffy boa, let her wear the plastic and rhinestone crown and let her put on her Cinderella strawberry flavored lip gloss that almost looks like her mother's lipstick. Inside the house, let her prance around for an hour or two and then have her put the stuff away because it's time to do something else.

Amie Ryan is the author of essay collections GREEN SHOES MEAN I LOVE YOU and STARFISH ON THURSDAY and the Marilyn Monroe biography MARILYN: LOVED BY YOU which became a #1 bestseller in its category on both Amazon US and Amazon UK. To learn more, please visit

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