Beauty Pageants Draw Children and Criticism

In addition to the child development and image concerns there are financial issues surrounding pageants, too. The run for crowns and cash can cost thousands of dollars. Entry fees range from $10 to $200. Dresses can cost up to $5,000, with most averaging $1,000 or so.

At the highest contest levels, contestants are required to wear multiple outfits appropriate for the different categories they must compete in. Coaches, modeling lessons, makeup and travel also add to the enormous price tags.

"Some people, myself included, think it's foolish to spend that much on a baby, but we do it to win and to have a good time," said one pageant mom, Heather Cocke. "If you don't really have the clothes, you don't win."

A Nest Egg for College

Pageant proponents say the contests offer the children many benefits. In addition to giving their children the chance to earn college scholarships, modeling contracts, and cash, parents of mini beauty queens claim it boosts their children's self-esteem, builds self-confidence and forges lasting friendships.

For Clark and her granddaughter, the investment paid off. Jayleigh earned $1,800 after winning a crown at the Summerville pageant, and is getting ready to sign a modeling contract in a month. From these earnings, Clark has set aside nearly enough to finance Jayleigh's college tuition.

For pageant judge Holly Tevan, pageants are "a wonderful way for a family to spend quality time together." Her own four children used pageant earnings to help pay for their college education, she said.

Just Like Little League

For a lot of parents, beauty contests are no different than chauffeuring their children around to Little League, or other athletic competitions.

"I was always involved in the baseball, the football, the basketball, the dance and now my kids are grown," said Clark. "To me this is the same thing, it's a sport we travel to. We teach her, she practices, and you win prizes. It's just the same. It's just a sport."

For Brilliant, the recreational aspect is one of pageantry's tenets. She wants parents to know that their child is gaining self-esteem, making new friends and having a good time. As for parents, "they get to have the opportunity to travel to a bunch of places and meet new people," she adds.

"You can't let the competition be the most important thing," said Lisa Larrymore, whose daughter, Danika, is a pageant regular. "The most important thing is the girl, the girl-time together and the bonding and the fun."

Too Sexy, Too Soon?

One of the concerns of critics like Brown is that the contests push the girls into the realm of sexuality, long before their time.

"When you have them looking older, for a lot of people that means looking sexier. I don't think it's a great idea for girls at that age to be focused so much on their sexuality," Brown said. "If you're telling a 6-year-old to act like a 16-year-old, you're telling her to be seductive and to be sexy."

But Brilliant contends that isn't the case, and says that critics misconstrue what the girls do when they take the stage.

"I wouldn't say it's sexualized," she said. "I think that they're more just trying to be a model and it's more of a dance routine than anything."

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