French Moving to Ban Child Beauty Pageants: Should We?

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 9/19/2013, 3:49 p.m.
Child beauty pageants are a lot like crime coverage on local news. Stick with me. This will make sense. I ...
Alana Thompson, better known to the world as Honey Boo Boo, on TLC's "Toddlers & Tiaras"

By Kelly Wallace

CNN

Child beauty pageants are a lot like crime coverage on local news. Stick with me. This will make sense. I promise.

Viewers complain there's too much crime in local television news reports, and yet, the stations covering crime enjoy high ratings. People complain that child beauty pageants exploit young girls -- some as young as 3 or 4 who are donning makeup, high heels and fake tans -- and yet, the ratings for reality television shows such as TLC's "Toddlers & Tiaras" are sky high.

We don't like the idea of these beauty contests for kids, but it seems we can't pull ourselves away. But what if there were no pageants for kids to begin with?

If French lawmakers get their way, there would be no French version of "Toddlers & Tiaras" and no French "Honey Boo Boo," referring to another child pageant reality star. The Senate in France voted to ban child beauty pageants for kids under the age of 16 and now the measure goes to the country's lower house for debate and a vote.

Where did this anti-pageant momentum come from on the part of the French? Some lawmakers point to a controversial photo spread in Vogue back in 2010, featuring a girl as young as 10 in high heels and sexy makeup.

The pageants are sexualizing our young girls, said lawmakers in France, and judging by the response to our request for comment on CNN's Facebook page, many people in the United States agree.

"How pleased I am that, finally, some are fully awakened and realizing that child beauty pageants should be banned," said Darlene Eckerman of Amarillo, Texas, in an e-mail message. "The mothers are the culprits here: teaching your child to be sexy and alluring at such a young, tender age when they are not ready for such exploitation."

Samantha Biswas, also via e-mail, said, "It is not about living vicariously through your child. It's about letting your child's childhood and youth get stolen by makeup, fashion shows, heels and dresses."

"To paint makeup on their faces and do up their hair, etc., OMG, wake up people," said Charlie Caissie. "These are children for heaven's sake, not adults. Let them decide for themselves at an appropriate age if they want to pursue this when they are adults."

Psychologist Wendy Walsh said the danger here is normalizing behavior that once would have been considered extreme and weird. "And now it seems perfectly OK for a little 6-year-old to be walking around in thigh-high boots and short booty shorts and smacking her butt when she dances down a runway? Come on! That's what a stripper does."

Others expressed fears about who may be watching these pageants.

"Every time I think about child beauty pageants, my heart sinks at the thought of all the pedophiles watching them. Why in the world do children need to be so sexualized?" asked a CNN reader.

On the other side are moms like Anna Berry of Littleton, Colorado, who said her 13-year-old daughter Ashley was so shy she couldn't even order for herself at a restaurant. After she started appearing in "natural" pageants (no makeup allowed), she blossomed. And now, as "Miss Heartland Junior Teen," she speaks to young girls across the country about her experiences with bullying, something she encountered when girls were jealous of her success on the pageant circuit.