Column: Child pageants are exploitative

Logan Raschke

Child beauty pageants need to go; parents should prioritize non-exploitative ways to cultivate lessons about self-discipline and civic engagement for their children.

Child beauty pageants, and any pageant that entails any kind of beauty comparison between contestants, are exploitative, inappropriate and harmful.

As someone who grew up without being in a single beauty pageant, much of my exposure to the subject has been within film and television media.

I immediately think of two TLC television series: “Toddlers & Tiaras” and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” Both series have garnered huge backlash as well as fiercely loyal followings.

In September of 2011, TLC released an episode featuring a 3-year-old girl dressed as the prostitute Julia Roberts played in “Pretty Woman.” This is blatant child sexual exploitation that (supposedly) went through multiple checks and balances and still got broadcasted on a nationwide scale.

Another example of sexual child exploitation in the TV series that was released that same year was an episode featuring a 4-year-old dressed as country singer Dolly Parton. The contestant’s mother dressed her child with fake breasts and a tight-fitting dress.

Some people might argue that this sexual exploitation occurs mostly within mass media, not local child beauty pageants. While there may be many child pageants held on local levels that do not sexually exploit children, any child pageants that include any comparison or measurement of beauty is exploitative.

The American Psychological Association published a report that outlined the components of sexualization as well as its consequences in 2007.

According to APA, sexualization happens once “a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics; a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy; a person is sexually objectified … and/or sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.”

Child pageants that measure beauty or “physical attractiveness” often equate that parameter with “sexiness.” For example, many parents use makeup to make their children appear older, dress the children in tight-fitting or revealing clothing and have them perform in sexually exploitative dances or poses.

The sexual exploitation of children in beauty pageants harms society, but it hurts the children most of all.

According to the APA report, many victims of sexualization suffer from eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression, just a few mental health repercussions. Other consequences include the damage of victims’ physical health, cognitive and emotional ability, attitudes, beliefs and sexuality.

Beauty pageants can give children chances to explore new hobbies, make friends and develop confidence as well as a sense of civic duty. But there are healthier ways to grow these important characteristics in children: Teach them the importance and value of volunteering, let them participate in summer camps and sign them up for extracurricular activities.

The component of measuring beauty in children is exploitative, harmful and inappropriate.


Logan Raschke is a senior journalism major. She can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].