Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Woman to woman: Pageants just plain bad for girls

A glamour shot of young JonBenet Ramsey

A glamour shot of young JonBenet Ramsey

Barbie just celebrated her 50th birthday, and still the debate rages on among concerned moms: harmless doll or body-image bruiser?

Barbie’s one thing, but I can’t imagine why there’s any debate over glitzy kiddie beauty pageants. They’re plain bad for girls.

Many of us were first exposed to this subculture when images of pageant princess JonBenet Ramsey inundated television following her 1996 slaying – images that Dan Rather referred to as “kiddie porn.”

That’s a fair assessment.

None of the parents involved in this world intend to make their pretty babies fodder for the photo and video collections of pedophiles. Yet that’s the result when they take fresh-faced children and publicly make them up into Hollywood starlets.

Seven-year-old legs are shaved for darker, often fake tans, preschoolers are fitted for hair extensions and false eyelashes, and even fake teeth are put in to mask missing baby teeth. Got nausea?

Sure, there are “natural” pageants too, filled with plain-faced kids sporting off-the-rack togs. Yet that’s not what inspired the documentary “Toddlers and Tiaras,” which was so successful that it morphed into a reality show on TLC.

With more than 100,000 entrants competing annually in what some estimate to be a $5 billion industry, this twisted subculture is going mainstream faster than you can say “Little Miss Sunshine.”

I’m sick of excuses for this exploitative trend – that it builds self-esteem, that little girls want to partake in these excessive and arduous productions.

What builds self-esteem is true competence; what little girls want is to feel special and receive a lot of attention from their parents. Surely, there are healthier ways to achieve those aims.

The economy is a disaster, but at least it may help kill off this exorbitantly expensive “hobby.”

Then maybe all the fabulous costumes and shoes and accessories owned by these families can stay where they belong – in the dress-up drawer at home.

Like many moms, I’ve got a drawer full of Barbies and a chest full of costumes, along with the belief that little girls have the right to play at starlet or princess to their heart’s desire.

Yet it should be their heart, their desire, that calls the shots. Grown-ups? Keep out of it, if you know what’s good for your kids.

Andrea Sarvady (w2wcolumn@gmail.com) is a writer and educator specializing in counseling and a married mother of three.

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This archive contains all the stories that appeared on the Tucson Citizen's website from mid-2006 to June 1, 2009.

In 2010, a power surge fried a server that contained all of videos linked to dozens of stories in this archive. Also, a server that contained all of the databases for dozens of stories was accidentally erased, so all of those links are broken as well. However, all of the text and photos that accompanied some stories have been preserved.

For all of the stories that were archived by the Tucson Citizen newspaper's library in a digital archive between 1993 and 2009, go to Morgue Part 2

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