Each year as many as 100,000 little girls under the age of 12 participate in what is now a $5 billion-dollar industry: U.S. child beauty pageants. A new book has captured their perfected products, what I call “baby ladies.” High Glitz: The Extravagant World of Child Beauty Pageants contains 90 photographs taken by the author and photographer Susan Anderson.
My first reaction when I looked at these pictures was, “What were their parents thinking?” How can they not see how it skews a young girl’s sense of self when she spends countless hours being made to look (notice the passive tense) like something she isn’t: a full-grown woman?
Feminists gasp in horror at the way these pageants make little girls into sex objects before they’ve even hit puberty. And any adult in his or her right mind worries about feeding the sick fantasies of a pedophile. But parents must have some pretty strong motivations in order to get past all the glitz and “old-before-their-time” images and behavior. (Not to mention to get them to spend thousands of dollars a year on fake tans and smiles, tailor-made clothes, fancy hairdos, make-up, and dancing and singing lessons.)
One motivation is that we love all things beautiful and we especially love innocent beauty. The natural beauty of a young child is the closest we get to heavenly beauty in this world. The irony is, these toddlers and tweens look anything but innocent by the time their parents and handlers get done with them.
But there’s another motivation which can be seen in the world of little boys as well: for some strange reason we parents are in a hurry to see our children grow up. Oh we don’t want them to have sex, get married and have children too early, but what we do want is to know is that they’re all going to be successful. And because we equate success with physical beauty for girls and physical prowess for boys, we push them into beauty pageants and Little League sports.
There is a competitive spirit that courses through the veins of every American. And if we’re too old or have lost our chances to be successful, we push our children to stand in for us.
I suppose that’s not unusual, because our children are the future. I just don’t think they should be our futures. Let them have their own.
Source: Amanda Fortini’s article on Salon.com.