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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

"Toddlers and Tiaras" Beauty Pageants: Are They Good For Our Children?

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Aug 8th 2011

Would you enter your child into a beauty pageant? This is a controversial issue along which responsible parents and caring adults are divided.

There are parents who convince themselves that their competing in pageants is run under religious auspices makes it perfectly safe. In addition, parents believe that pageants are a good thing for their children because it builds self confidence and esteem. There are even parents who state that their daughters asked to compete. However, should a four year old be taken seriously if she asks to be in a pageant? In fact, should a ten year old be takne seriously and, do we agree to do everything our children ask?

On the other hand, there are people who have a dim view of these child pageants. First, they cite the tragic case of Jean Binet Ramsey, a participant in a pageant, who was found murdered. Many believed that her death was directly connected to the pageant she was in. Many people caution that these beauty competitions attract sexual predators. It must be stated that the reason for Jean Binet's death is unknown.

Psychologists and psychiatrists largely agree that pageants, such as "Toddlers and Tiaras," reinforce negative female body image issues that result in eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. As evidence of this they mental health experts point out the trend towards the onset of eating disorders at much younger ages than ever before. For example, beauty competitions emphasize the "barbie doll" image of what a beauty queen should look like. The trouble is that there is no way for a human being to look that way because it is so exaggerated.

Mental health experts emphasize the fact these child pageants have the effect of sexualizing girls. In other words, the stereotyped thinking that females as sexual objects is detrimental to these kids. Their make up, clothes and types of dances all focus on being sexy. If you have any doubt about this, just watch the television show to see for yourself.

It's important to raise the question about whether these children are living out fantasy wishes harbored by their mothers. In other words, under this theory, the mothers are using the children to fulfill their own childhood wishes and dreams. The concern about this is that the children are narcissistic extensions of their mother rather than growing into the independent people they should become.

 Isn't it more important to focus our children, male and female, on the truly important achievements in a competitive world, such as math and science? Are toddlers and ten year old children being asked to compete in Math, English, Foreign Language and Science "pageants?  What are the values that are being communicated by putting children through beauty pageants?

I am reminded of a young female patient who reported to me that, when men told her she was very beautiful, her quick retort was, "So what, it isn't anything I did!"

What are your thoughts and opinions about this issue?

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at dransphd@aol.com for details.

    Reader Comments
    Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

    Kids - Cathy - Aug 9th 2011

    Kids should be allowed to be kids.  Always a fan of anything Disney, I noticed that they really "sex up" both the boys and girls in the music videos now.  I think it is more than the pageants.  Look at magazines.  They don't show kids having fun, getting dirty (in a good way), etc. but they show the "innocence" in a seductive way.  I think mothers/fathers drive their kids to do these things although they may not be doing it indirectly.  So many people push their kids so that they, the parents, can feel "fulfilled", have something to brag about, using the kids in this shallow way.  I did love the comment you posted about the beautiful young woman!   

    Not good for kids - Beth - Aug 9th 2011

    My stomach always turns when I see the commercials for these kinds of shows. I've always wondered if the parents were trying to live out some kind of fantasy through their children. I'd also have to wonder about the focus that is placed on image from an external sense and the effect this can have on a young child. I'm for letting our children be children...

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