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Pageants Behind the Scenes: Toddlers, Tiaras, Tempers and Tantrums

"Just like any other 3- or 4- or 5-year-old little girl or little boy, they're going to have tantrums," Wood said. "They're going to have bad days, and that has nothing to do with pageants. … [They] are just being a human. … If you have a child you know that they have moments."

The first day of the pageant was the talent portion, for which the children practice up to 15 hours a week. If you looked on the sidelines it was clear that the parents had done some practicing of their own, encouraging their children to smile and miming the words and movements of their routines.

"You just get so caught up in it," Wood said. "I seem to get a little too much into it sometimes and don't even realize I'm doing it. It's to help them. You go to the ball games and the moms and dads will be in the stands going 'Get 'em, get 'em, get 'em'… To me it's no different than us coaching our girls."

But judge Kathy Petty says sometimes the parents go too far.

"When your child's on stage and they don't perform the way they want you to, don't spank them, hit them, things like that," she said. "I have seen that in the past, where the parents start yelling at them, actually spanks them … and I don't think that's encouraging."

Pageants Teach 'Performance-Based Esteem'?

Day two of the pageant focused on the contestants' bodies and their beauty as the children modeled swimsuits and formal wear.

It's this portion of the contest that concerns many child psychologists the most. A 2007 study by the American Psychological Association contends that pageants teach young girls "to see themselves as objects to be looked at and evaluated for their appearance."

The study linked a premature emphasis on appearance with "three of the most common mental health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression."

Family therapist Terry Real said that giving children "performance-based esteem" -- teaching them that their self worth comes from their talents or beauty -- is dangerous.

"What you want to teach your kid is you have worth because of who you are, period," he said.

Pageant owner Annette Hill calls the study "ridiculous" and says it's up to the parents to keep things positive.

"When they do studies like that they need to go to a pageant system and look at the kids and evaluate," she said. "I don't see any unhappy kids here."

Hill believes America's backlash against pageants all began with the precocious images of JonBenet Ramsey parading across the stage in 1996. The 6-year-old beauty pageant queen was found dead in the basement of her parent's home. Her murder has never been solved.

"We love beauty pageants, and we're not going to stop doing them," she said. "Parents enjoy showcasing their kids, and what is wrong with that? What is wrong with showcasing to the world, here is my beautiful daughter or my beautiful son? As long as you keep it in a positive aspect, I don't think anything is wrong with that."

Mickie Wood also dismissed the study's findings that linked a premature emphasis on beauty to eating disorders, depression and low self-esteem in the future.

"It's playing dress up," she said. "It's an expensive dress up game. We put so much more emphasis on her being Eden and excelling at everything she does."

She said that it's possible for pageants to overemphasize beauty "if you don't balance out with a normal life" but said that it's only a small part of her own family's life.

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