Child Beauty Pageant

A child beauty pageant is a beauty contest featuring contestants including and younger than 18 years of age. Divisions include talent, interview, sportswear, casual wear, swim wear, western wear, theme wear, outfit of choice, decade wear, and evening wear, typically wearing makeup as well as elaborate hairstyles. The contestants wear custom fitted and designed outfits to present their routines on stage.

Some pageants do their best to make every child feel like a winner. There is a queen for every age division and there are Ultimate Grand Supreme awards, Mini supreme queens for certain blocks of age divisions (0-5, 6-11, 12-16, 17 and up). There are also side awards and overall side awards. Pageants may cater to the ‘natural’ contestant (who typically wears minimal makeup, only her own hair, no false teeth, no spray tan, and unmanicured nails) and/or the ‘high glitz’ contestant (who typically uses any and all of the above listed techniques to enhance her appearances).

The most cited reason parents give for putting their children into beauty pageants is to boost their child’s self-esteem, as well as teach poise, public speaking skills, tact, and confidence. Another commonly thought reason is to fulfill the mothers own childhood dreams vicariously through her daughters. However, parents can also contribute to the sexualization of their daughters in very direct and concrete ways—for example, by entering their 5-year-old daughter in a beauty pageant in which she and the other contestants engage in behaviors and practices that are socially associated with sexiness: wearing heavy makeup to emphasize full lips, long eyelashes, and flushed cheeks, high heels to emulate adult women, and revealing ‘evening gowns.’

Beauty pageants started in 1921 when the owner of an Atlantic City hotel struck upon the idea to help boost tourism. However, the idea had already circulated through ‘Most Beautiful Child’ contests held in major cities across the country. The Little Miss America pageant began in the 1960s at Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. Originally, it was for teenagers from 13 to 17 years old, but by 1964 there were over 35,000 participants, which prompted an age division. The modern child beauty pageant emerged in the late 1960s, held in Miami. Since then, the industry has grown to include nearly 25,000 pageants and is a billion dollar industry.

The murder of JonBenét Ramsey in late 1996 turned the public spotlight onto child beauty pageants. Critics began to question the ethics of parents who would present their child in such a way. Dan Rather was noted for criticizing CBS for airing Ramsey’s tapes, calling them ‘kiddie porn.’ In 2001, HBO aired its Emmy-winning ‘Living Dolls: The Making of a Child Beauty Queen,’ which garnered much attention.

Besides the laws that regulate child education, pageants are a relatively ungoverned program. Child contestants are not considered ‘working,’ so pageants are exempt from federal child labor laws. Pageants also have different rules, so it becomes hard to set a law that will cover every pageant. New York, Texas, Massachusetts, Arkansas, California, Vermont and Maine do not have any laws regulating pageants.

Contestants spend about two hours or less in actual competition and no longer than 90 seconds on stage for talent or 45 seconds for modeling routines. All pageants have slightly different guidelines, rules, criteria for what they judge on, and events. Events may include sportswear, swimwear, evening wear, talent, interview, writing skills, and modeling. Children are critiqued on ‘individuality, capability, poise, and confidence.’ They compete to win a variety of prizes, such as electronics, toys, scholarships and grants, cash, tiaras, sashes, robes, and trophies. Trophies can be taller than the contestants themselves; in the ‘Little Miss’ pageant, the World level trophies can be 5 to 6 feet tall.

Besides travel and lodging expenses, pageants require an entry fee that usually ranges from fifty to several hundred dollars, depending on the type of competition being entered. Makeup and hair is typically done by a professional makeup artist. Spray tans and other accessories also must be paid for, as well as clothing and outfits. Dresses can cost anywhere from $200 to $6000, depending on the designer and the amount of adornment on the garment. Some parents hire pageant coaches to teach their child professionally choreographed routines.

There have been cases of families going into debt or losing their homes because of overextending family resources to cover the costs that the pageants required. Contestants may sell sponsor tickets and get ads for ad books to help with the cost of competing. Sponsor tickets range in price from $1 to $10 and are entered in raffle drawings for cash prizes. It is estimated that the attire and props as they relate to costs of putting a child through a beauty pageant can range from $300 and upward of $5000 depending on the level of competition.


14 Comments to “Child Beauty Pageant”

  1. LET A KID, BE A KID!!

    • Exactly!!!!!! I Understand wanting to make your kids feel beautiful. But, make them feel beautiful every day of the life, in their own skin. Lets save the makeup for the teen years and the hair, well, lets keep it real. You want to teach your kids how to be talented? Enter them in something involving TEAMWORK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Dance, Soccer, Basketball, Swimming! ANYTHING!!!! Just let them enjoy their child hood because it only lasts for so long.

  2. You should be ashamed of yourself. How can you treat a child’s photo that way online! I understand your strong opinions, but you should not *&?#-can a child to make your point! I googled “toddler boy’s blend hairstyle” to get ideas for my son’s haircut and came across your “photo”. It is not just on the internet in “child beauty pageants” as you might think! Shame, Shame, Shame!

  3. That’s awful how rude you are being to the child and the mother. I’m not saying I would ever do it but to call the child’s outfit a “stripper outfit?” You’ve no shame.

  4. The children are made up to resemble Vietnamese hookers (or emulate Bratz dolls) and people here are trashing the author of the article?! Yeah, that will get things done……

  5. Excuse me? Why are you people bashing the writer for simply POINTING OUT what is so grossly wrong with the photo? The writer is NOT the one to be ashamed, the parents who allowed that to happen to that little girl are the ones who should be ashamed. The fact that you people are bashing the messenger is utter rubbish.

  6. i compete in pageants and it has had a positive outcome towards life.

    • I wonder if anyone realizes this photo is a computer edit hair make up eyelashes, we can even add the outfit, my daughter enjoys pageants, I am from Kansas and I know how everyone sees them black and white. BUT AS A PAGEANT MOM and a very proud one(because I enjoy seeing my daughters[2 out of 3 choose to do them] have fun and how much they light up feeling like a princess). Sally they do not care about actually obtaining first hand knowledge such as a hair piece prevents destroying their child’s hair with what most woman use in their hair daily product, and heat. I do not tan my girls, cupcake skirts are the same length as what most schools deem acceptable (FINGER TIP) never shorter, and has anyone been to the pool lately and seen the little girls swimsuits there, again photo edit, and what is wrong with teaching a child a girl not be ashamed of her body, I myself think the definition of a woman is determined by each woman herself, and I would love to have the confidence to wear a bikini, but no the world today is so nasty so provocative everything a woman could possibly do say or wear becomes sexual, my children will not be ashamed of their bodies now or ever, pageants here in Kansas have more security then any pool, more children go missing from the pools in their itty bity no glitz bikinis than in the pageant, actually here we have never had a kid up and disappear from a pageant. We live in a world of false dichotomy and I pray the next generation, that my children’s generation is not black and white thinkers, but creators of new ideas. Black and white thinking is not thinking at it is simply taking the thought of an others and deeming it your own without experiencing it, or fully understanding it.

      • First off not all pageant mothers and fathers operate at dangerous extremes. However, I find it funny how you say that you are not comfortable in a bikini because of lack of confidence and the world is nasty and provocative and some of these pageants are inspired by this nasty, provocative thing that society has become. At the extreme these pageants can objectify and sexualize a young child and can teach a child self objectification and body dissatisfaction that can last forever. I am trashing pageants, no, I see the positives that can be obtained such as self esteem and poise and ability to present oneself, but surviving real life does not involve just batting eyelashes and smiling. The scary thing is the extreme that SOME of these parents go to, in which case they usually are living vicariously through their child ( achievement by proxy disorder), and they actually lose sight of what is in the best interest for their child. One last thing, prancing on stage and posing and blowing kisses in a bikini most definantly can draw in a pedophile and just because it hasn’t happened in Kansas does not mean that it doesn’t happen. Maybe you should check out the photos of poor JonBenet Ramsey and read what a sadistic pedophile does. Pedophiles are everywhere and it is a parent’s responsibility to protect them to the best of their abilities and that includes not wearing a bikini at the pool at such a young age. Once again not everybody operates at such dangerous extremes

  7. Couldn’t you use a drawing? It is never okay to ridicule a photo, of anyone, especially a child who didn’t even do those things to herself. I also saw this googling “toddler boy haircut” and came to say exactly what Kbritain said. This is online bullying and you should be ashamed.

  8. Exactly HOW is that a stripper outfit? It looks like a one piece bathing suit , would you prefer the girl be in a burka? I can understand if you have strong opinions, however base them in reality. Makeup, LOL I am 43 and I had to wear that much makeup when I was a kid to be able to participate in a dance recital and everyone that was missing teeth had to wear fake ones because the teacher wanted “uniform smiles” on stage. This was in 1977. I am kind of tired of all of the fake outrage about darn near everything now a days, , by the way I found this page by looking up wedding gowns.

  9. stop ridiculing children a-hole!

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