France Bans Child Beauty Pageants, America Unlikely to Follow

But, even in America, the land of Honey Boo Boo, the question of whether these contests should be banned has been percolating for years

The top five contestants
The top five contestants in the 4–6-year-old section wait on the judges' final decisions during the Little Miss Perfect competition at Renaissance Montgomery Hotel and Spa at the Convention Center in Montgomery, Alabama. Wikimedia Commons

A few days ago, France banned child beauty pageants, saying that they send the wrong message to little girls.

Child beauty pageants aren’t nearly as popular in France as they are here. But, even in America, the land of Honey Boo Boo, the question of whether these contests should be banned has been percolating for years. In 2009, a North Carolina Representative introduced a bill that would regulate pageants for girls under 13. There are several online petitions to keep girls out of pageants. (But then again, there are online petitions for almost anything.)

The arguments made in France are similar to the ones made here—young girls are being taught that they are objects to be looked at and not people. “We are talking about children who are only being judged on their appearance, and that is totally contrary to the development of a child,” Chantal Jouanno, author of the French amendment, told the Associated Press. Jouanno also argues that the shows are tied up in the way women are treated. “When I asked an organizer why there were no mini-boy contests, I heard him respond that boys would not lower themselves like that,” she told the Senate during a debate.

A Yahoo Shine blogger named Ilana Wiles wonders why Americans don’t feel the same way. “After watching a Toddlers & Tiaras clip of a mother waxing her daughter’s eyebrows as she screamed and cried for her to stop, I don’t know why we aren’t trying to get child pageants banned in the United States too,” she writes.

One of the big reasons that America won’t rush to shut down pageants is that they’ve become a huge, money-making industry. According to Wiles, the pageant industry is worth over a billion dollars, and since the children aren’t technically working, they’re not subject to federal child labor laws.

Last year, a paper in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry took a look at the ways child pageants impact both the children and parents involved. They found that for most pageant goers, the whole show is far more about the parents than the children—that parents were playing “princess by proxy” through their kids, with little regard for the kids. The paper’s author, Martina M. Cartwright, observed pageants all over the united states. Alexis Blue at The University of Arizona News writes:

At the pageants she observed, where contestants ranged in age from 4 months to 15 years, she said tears and temper tantrums were common, with many parents denying their children naps or breaks during grueling pageant schedules for fear that sleeping might dishevel the child’s appearance. She also saw several parents giving their children caffeinated beverages and Pixy Stix candy, often referred to as “pageant crack,” to keep their energy levels high, with one mother declaring, “We’ve gone through two bags of crack and two cans of energy drink so she can stay up for crowning.”

While the United States isn’t exactly in the habit to looking to France for cultural guidance these days, maybe in this case the country should take a hint, and gives its own pageant industry a serious look.

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