Saturday, August 13, 2011

Pageant passe

Why are our babies being turned into showgirls?
When I was a cadet journalist I was asked to judge a baby competition run by the newspaper I worked for.
I was happy to do it, but had then heard that the reason I was asked was because the previous year had ended with the judge in tears after she was accused of favouritism since she personally knew some of the entrants.
I was only 22 and didn’t know anyone with a baby, so the boss thought it would all be fine this time around, plus they decided to not to let me know any of the names of the babies, in case one did ring a bell.
So I carefully looked through dozens of photos of cute little babies and picked one who I thought shined the brightest in their photo.
And then I found out who the baby was.
As it happened, I did know a couple with a baby, and I picked their son!
Thankfully no one put up a fuss, and there were no tears from me, but plenty from the winning baby who had a full blown cold when he was photographed for the next day’s cover picture - snotty nose and all - and certainly didn’t look as cute as he did in his winning portrait.
The point of this little story is that every baby is cute... they just sometimes have their snotty days, just like bad hair days! 
I’ve since judged other baby competitions and found it always hard to pick a winner, but delightful to look through pictures of smiling babies because the look in their eyes is of pure innocence. They are completely unaware that their round cheeks, dimply fingers and bright eyes are being judged by everyone.
Now take a look into the eyes of Eden Wood, the six-year-old child-beauty pageant queen from the US who I saw performing hip-thrusting dance moves on Channel 7’s The Morning Show.

I was shocked, disgusted, but most of all, I felt so sorry for her.
Her dance moves are something Beyonce or Madonna would perform, but certainly not appropriate for a little girl.
Add to this her heavy make-up, false eyelashes and fake tan, and you’ve got a recipe that forces a little girl to grow up far too quickly.
Eden has been making headlines in Australia for all the wrong reasons and it makes me angry that TV stations are at war over her.
First and foremost, she is a child. She’s not Oprah (remember the media frenzy over her?) - she is a child, just like all the other little girls who attended the Universal Royal Pageant in Melbourne last Saturday.
This is why Victoria’s Child Safety Commissioner Bernie Geary was also in attendance. 
It is everyone’s responsibility to protect children from exploitation and/or abuse, and to many parents, these sorts of competitions sexualise children, instead of protecting them.
I feel sorry for Eden because she will grow up believing that people love her because of how sparkly her teeth are, how perfect her make-up and hairdo is, and because of the way she dances.
She is already forced to spend time signing autographs, posing for pictures, being interviewed and performing for crowds, which is completely unnatural for a six-year-old.
Throughout her childhood, Eden will always feel pressure to look like a doll and act like a grown-up, especially since she has her own lookalike Las Vegas Showgirl doll being sold on her website for $30.95.
It looks nothing like her - the dead giveaway being the doll’s breasts.
But wait, there’s more... the first 50 dolls sold will be signed by Eden, so the poor girl has to spend countless hours scribbling her name on 50 dolls! 
Labelled “America’s Sweetheart” who has won more than 300 beauty pageants, Eden Wood just makes me want to cry.
And what about the girls who come last in these contests? To be rejected because they’re not pretty enough, is a surefire path towards body image disorders such as anorexia.
It saddens me that in a world where there are so many fantastic choices for girls, how could any mother encourage their child to change their appearance with make-up, waxing, padding, tanning, fake teeth or even botox, and parade around in high heels.
How does this give a young girl a sense of self respect? What values are they learning? What exactly is the point of it all?
But this issue is not always black and white.
If we oppose child beauty pageants, should we also crackdown on children who do modelling, or dance concerts and eisteddfods? And what about some of the dolls on the shelves in toy stores that are overly sexualised, obsessed with fashion and make-up, and clearly portraying a body image that can never be reality?
My eldest daughter loves dancing, and her participation in a ballet concert last year was a highlight of her young life.
But her performance was in no way sexualised, and she was not made to look like an adult. She was simply having fun.
There’s no doubt that young children love to dance and perform, and little girls love dressing up as princesses, but it is our duty as parents to set boundaries about what is, and is not, appropriate.
Something has changed in the last 20 years that worries me as a mother of two daughters.
When I was a girl (and when my mother and grandmothers were girls), there was no such thing as “tweens”, bras for preschoolers, t-shirts for kids that say “porn star” or cosmetics marketed to little girls.
We ran outside, loved playing with our dolls and colouring-in, rode our bikes and climbed trees.
I sincerely hope that most children are still enjoying these things and that the ones being persuaded to preen and perform in pageants are the minority.


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