By Crystal Ogar

Child beauty pageants just may be the most quintessential sexualization of young girls to be found. It has always been hard for me to sit through a full episode of Toddlers & Tiaras, but I decided to finally do it.  Beauty pageants have always creeped me out —  even after winning a church pageant myself when I was five-years-old. I hardly remember it, although the pictures were adorable.

The idea of dressing young girls up way past their age with heavy amounts of makeup and, in some cases, clothing that exposes their bodies, is astoundingly unacceptable. I don’t and never will understand the need to parade young girls around in makeup and extravagant outfits to give them the message that their beauty is all that matters. Not what kind of person they are, or will be, or their interests, but solely their meaning is all based on looks.

Toddlers & Tiaras has been problematic for some time, but it definitely crossed a line when one of their 3-year-old contestants was dressed up and paraded around as the prostitute from the film Pretty Woman. I don’t have to tell you what’s wrong with that.

Wendy Dickey, the mother of the 3-year-old, defended her choice to use the Julia Robert’s character for her daughter’s theme. “Well, at this pageant there was an option to do celebrity-wear,” Dickey said. “And we thought about what we could wear with her being a brunette and Julia Roberts is my favorite actress of all time. I thought it was real cute to do Julia. She’s 3, if she was ten I never would have considered this. But as young as she is, I thought it was very comical.” What’s comical about sexualizing a three year old? Not much.

Melissa Henson, director of communications and public education for the Parents Television Council stated, “There’s no question, TV executives are complicit in robbing these small kids of their childhood. For years we’ve seen adult sexuality being inappropriately and aggressively foisted on innocent young children, but children today are being sexualized at younger and younger ages.” To me that statement says it all.

And let’s not forget the mothers who push these girls to the limits when they’re crying and screaming and clearly don’t like having their hair pulled and fixed to the ninth degree. In most (all) cases, girls are given fake tans, fake hair, and, scarily, fake teeth. April, one of the pageant moms on the show said, “I think all young girls like doing things like that!” Really?!

April continued to defend pageants, as a clip played of her daughter gyrating and bending over in a short tutu and frilly panties. “I think there’s a lot of negativity in pageants,” April said. “They think you know we’re dressing them up to look a lot older then what they are and sexualizing them and things like that and I just don’t agree with it. I don’t think we try to make them look older. Obviously, 6-year-olds don’t have fake hair and wear fake teeth and makeup, but you know it’s fun! It’s dress-up.”

There’s nothing wrong with having dance competitions and talent portions to show off the things these young girls are capable of, but at the end of the day it’s not really about that is it? Pageants like these are teaching girls that the only thing that matters is their appearance and being materialistic. It makes me sad for both the parents and the children. I hope they grow up to realize that there’s more to life than the way you look.

Not only is this belief a huge problem, but so is the fact that there’s mostly only white girls in these particular pageants. Halfway through the episode, there’s a two second shot of a woman of color and her child and towards the end a woman who was crowning the young beauty queens. Because the idea of beauty still lies within the ideal of being white, but tanning yourself so you can look dark enough to be “acceptable.” As if being dark is something so easily washed away, whenever it’s convenient.

Some of these girls are funny and personable and have aspirations, such as becoming a fashion designer. So why not focus on their wants and personalities, rather than dressing them up and focusing only on appearances? The pageants award titles like “prettiest eyes” and “prettiest hair.” One mother is disappointed with her child’s hair even after she wins the corresponding title, saying her daughter’s face looked too fat. To me these mothers are going to be giving their daughters severe complexes in the future. It’s time we teach children (girls and boys alike) that their value in this world does not lay in their beauty, but within their hearts, souls, and minds.