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Toddlers & Tiaras? Pull the Pin Now!

The type of child beauty pageant made infamous by the reality TV show Toddlers & Tiaras is coming to Australia. We’ve all been outraged by what we’ve seen of these totally inappropriate, hypersexualized competitions.

Enlighten’s own Catherine Manning, one of our stellar Melbourne presenters, is putting her outrage to good use. She’s started Pull the Pin, a group that’s organising public rallies around the country to send a message to politicians and pageant organisers: we don’t want child beauty pageants in Australia.

This week I’m handing over to Catherine so she can talk about Pull the Pin and how you can get involved. Catherine, you have a heart of gold—but more than that, you are a woman of action!

I also had a great in-depth discussion about why child beauty pageants are so damaging to girls’ self-esteem and body image on Adelaide radio, which you can listen to here.


When the news hit that an American child beauty pageant company, Universal Royalty, is holding a pageant in Melbourne in July, I was amongst the many thousands of people who felt sickened—not just by the images of little girls being blatantly adultified and sexualised in these pageants but also by the fact that such a beauty competition for children would even have a market here in Australia.

It’s one thing for little girls to play dress-ups, donning frocks and heels, putting on some lippy and parading around the lounge room—but when adults come along and turn it into a fierce competition for money and prizes, complete with professional make-up artists, hairdressers and photographers, that’s just creepy and every kind of wrong.

I feel compelled to take action, so I have started the Pull the Pin campaign, which is coordinating public rallies on Tuesday, 3 May, at 12:00 p.m. on the steps of Parliament House in capital cities around the country. The aim is to make our voices heard in a way that is sensitive to pageant participants but sends a clear message to politicians and the community that we don’t want child beauty pageants in Australia. The reason I have chosen that day is that parliament will be in session in Melbourne, so it’s a great opportunity to send a message to the politicians in the city where the pageant is planned to take place.

I will be arranging for some engaging speakers in each state to articulate our concerns, and some peaceful protest “action” on the steps of parliament, such as bubble blowing, skipping, face painting, hopscotch—ordinary things that children really like to do and should be doing.

I have been encouraged by the many people who have contacted me expressing an interest in participating in the rally action, and am now looking to you to help me organise the rally in your state or territory.

If you would like to get involved and help coordinate things on the day, please email me at info@sayno4kids.com. It would be great to have a diversity of people involved to show that this issue is one a wide range of Australians feel very strongly about. I want to thank my friends at Australians Against Child Beauty Pageants and Collective Shout for their support on this issue.

Some discussions in the media and online about the pageant and rally have suggested a “catfight” between those parents who are for pageants and those who are against. I certainly don’t condone anyone personally attacking pageant parents. But I also don’t think it’s acceptable for parents to have girls as young as 3 years old coiffed, waxed and primped, then paraded in a competition against other little girls. As Dr Karen Brooks writes in The Courier-Mail, “For years, experts have stated how damaging it can be to introduce children at such an early age to this kind of subjective and superficial evaluation.” Responsibility does need to be taken by parents, and also by governments that allow these competitions to be run. Ideally, I’d like to see a worldwide ban on child beauty pageants.

Some of the adult cosmetic practices inflicted on little girls competing in these pageants, such as waxing and spray tanning, should also be illegal for children, in my view. We used to be able to rely on common sense—who’d have ever thought we’d have to protect young girls from their parents actively sexualising them for prize money? (Anyone who doubts that these girls are being sexualised didn’t see the episode of Toddlers & Tiaras in which “a mother screeches ‘Flirt! You’re not flirting!’ as her six-year-old daughter practices her routine,” as Nina Funnell describes over on Melinda Tankard-Reist’s site.)

I’m tired of hearing pageant parents and organisers compare beauty competitions to sport. If a child engages in a sporting activity, when they lose they know they can go home to practice and hone their skills for next time—but when they compete in a beauty competition and lose, they can only feel unworthy and unable to do anything about it.

Girls are already constantly bombarded with narrow beauty ideals in our culture, from Disney princesses and Barbies and Bratz dolls, to music video clips telling them they should look and behave like grown women. We should be combatting the message society sends our girls that they’re “not enough”—not foisting beauty competition culture upon them.

Pull the Pin is motivated by our care for children and their rights. My hope is that the little girls who compete in pageants will be pleased to see that someone else is saying “no” on their behalf. Anyone who’s watched Toddlers & Tiaras knows that often the little girls’ pleas of “stop” fall on deaf ears in pageant land. The rallies and our peaceful protests may just give them the courage to say “See Mummy, those people are having fun with their little girls just doing normal, healthy things. I want to do that too.”

We want to send a really strong message that Australians don’t want this type of exploitative beauty competition here. And we want to encourage  parents considering entering their children to think twice and act in the best interests of the children, not their own or the pageant organisers’ pockets.

Catherine Manning is an Enlighten Education presenter in Victoria. She is also the director of the children’s rights advocacy group Say No 4 Kids, which campaigns to end children’s exposure to highly sexualised material in the media and public domain.

Published inAdvertisingBeauty IndustryBody ImageMediaParents

10 Comments

  1. I was horrified to hear that these pageants were being introduced to Australia, and have been heartened to see the level of outrage and opposition to them. The adultification and sexualisation of little girls is NOT OK, and the marketing surrounding these shows is just disgusting. It is great to see the mobilisation of “people power” and I look forward to hearing how the protests go!
    (I am in New Zealand, but my heart is fully behind you all!)

  2. I concur with Danni and Catherine that “Pageant World for Girls” should be outlawed!! There is in no need for more sexualising of our girls, they are already bombarded from so many direction (as Danni mentioned) to be viewed as sexy, hot, pretty, thin, etc. For goodness sake, let our girls just be kids and play in dirt, ride their bikes, climb trees, hang out with their friends and speak up against these horrible pageants that parade as something beautiful when they are in fact disgusting and so damaging to our girls. Great post Catherine. xx

  3. Nikki D

    Go Catherine! I too am outraged that this is coming to Australia and I believe many people will be keen to support this! I’ll be spreading the word.

    PS How insulting is it that the media uses language like “cat fight” when it comes to this issue? Way to trivialise what is an important issue huh?

  4. Justine Stewart

    A really terrific summary of the issue, thank you. @Nikki D, to be fair, I’m not sure if anyone in the media has used the term “catfight” but I know I have been concerned that that is what the media will try to turn it into. I’m really pleased that the focus has been on calmly informing/educating both businesses and parents about the research, and explaining why so many people are opposed to this. The fantastic thing is seeing so many people rally around the idea that we are not content to passively consume the sexualisation of our kids any longer. The pendulum has swung far enough and we’re discovering that we’re not the only ones who want to do something about it – and the fact that we can, together, is really inspiring.

  5. Francesca

    I could not beleive it when I listened to a talkback shock jock on one of our sydney mainstream radio channels go head to head with a USA pageant organiser. As you suggested Cath, she was defending the child beauty pageants by likening the experience to that of a child competing in a form of sport from a young age. I recall her using Tiger Woods as an example of child competitor reaching huge levels of sporting success as an adult. In my opinion, young girls competing in sport is nothing like them engaging in the world of pageantry. Where is the truth; the idea of being the best you can be, your AUTHENTIC best…all I can see in child pageants are fake teeth, fake walks, fake smiles and often confused and overtired children who just want to relax and laugh. Good on you Cath for taking action. I would hate to see these US style beauty pageants hit our shores and our kids.

  6. Storm Greenhill-Brown

    Great post Catherine! It is just incredible that these pagents even exist. Who are these parents and what are their values? What ever happened to the value of being a smart girl? I have to say i struggle with girls who dance and wear makeup, wigs and get spray tans. Most mothers accept this and say “well, they are on stage” Why even be on stage? The creative process does not have to be applauded. Why can’t we find our own value in what we achieve rather than ask for someone else’s? Our western culture is all about being seen and evaluated, talking not listening and with little self-reflection or analysis. It’s a crisis alright. Shine the ray of hope every amazon woman!!

  7. Adam

    Good article and enlightening though not a subject to dwell on too much as its very heavy. needless to say I have something to add. Men and women have negative body images these days because of false unhealthy portrayals of what true sexuality and beauty is.the adult industry is well and truly established the worship of sexual idols well and truly alive. I am studying developmenyt psychlogy and one of the concepts in the self concept. One facet of the self-concept is physical appearance. Our notion of the importance of phyisical beauty has been so skewed and perverted that it is no wonder so many adolescent girls are suffering from eating disorders and boys/men are addicted to dirty movies Confidence has become based purely upon looks among girls and upon ones virility and ablity to get a girl naked among men. it is indeed a sad world and particuarly disgusting that false values be imposed upon 3 year old children who have barely even begun to develop a concept of the self. I as a parent or educator will do my utmost to instill values that mean something in my children, and promise that I will develop a deeper sense of moral purpose in life for my own aswell as my childrens sake.

  8. ken keys

    news that this obscenity might come over to NZ as well horrifies me. Allpower to your organisiation and to those who demonstrate in Australia.

    Ken and Annetta keys

  9. david

    Firstly i like to thank Catherine Manning,I think this whole sexualisation of a child is discusting,I think this is sick; to exploit Children in this manner is disgusting. Children at this age can’t make life changing decisions for themselves. The psychological ramifications will be irreversible for all the wrong reasons, as children put on a pedestal are only being mentally prepared for the “BIG WIN”. The mother has brain washed this child, to mold her into a Baby Aphrodite and to lose is not what they are developing for and that is where the real problems start. It’s ok in america to seriously violate children’s rights, though this is Australia and we cant do this, the government should pass a law to STOP this. So our future Children, can live a self explorative happier life, and are not critically criticized for making mistakes.

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