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Babies, not Barbies! Sand pits, not glitz!

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Danni Miller with Junior Activists at Sydney rally.

I am feeling pumped after this week’s national Pull the Pin protests against the glitzy, sexualised child beauty pageants as seen on “Toddlers & Tiaras”. This type of competition is heading to Australia if American company Universal Beauty goes ahead with its July pageant in Melbourne. Tuesday’s protests were our way of saying “This is not going to happen on our watch”, as I told Kerri-anne.

I was honoured to speak at the Sydney protest in front of Parliament House and was thrilled to see that so many people want to protect little girls from being primped, waxed and fake-tanned to look like women, then sent out to be judged against an incredibly narrow, limiting definition of beauty.

Pull the Pin, the movement created by Enlighten Education’s simply amazing Catherine Manning, would like to see child pageants banned. So would I. And so would the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ chair Phillip Brock. He says that placing girls in pageants could lead to anxiety and depression because:

Infants and girls are objectified and judged against sexualised ideals. The mental health and development consequences of this are significant and impact on identity, self-esteem and body perception.

When will the government listen?

We know the pageant organisers won’t. They’re making too much money out of the toddler equivalent of the compare-and-despair game women know all too well. This is big business — two words that should never be seen in the same sentence as childhood.

Case in point: Eden Wood. The six-year-old US pageant contestant who is being used to publicise the Universal Royalty event is promoted as “the prettiest little girl in America”, but The Sydney Morning Herald dubbed her “Little Miss Pricey” when her agent said it could cost up to $20,000 for the paper to interview Eden. Annette Hill, the founder of Universal Royalty, wanted $5,000 to be interviewed.

These pageants are not about developing girls’ talent and confidence, as pageant fans say. These pageants are about currency: cold hard cash, and the message that girls’ currency is their looks.

Enlightens Cath Manning, speaks at the Melbourne rally (Photo by melbourneprotests.wordpress.com)
Enlighten's Cath Manning, speaks at the Melbourne rally

It breaks my heart to look at the pictures of Eden Wood on her Facebook fan page. In many of them, she has been heavily Photoshopped. In some, it isn’t just that she no longer looks like a child but that she doesn’t even look real any more.

US pageant contestant Eden Wood, 6
US pageant contestant Eden Wood, 6

Phillip Brock says the photos of Eden Wood:

can be interpreted as alluring and appealing to the sexual instincts of the observer, and if that observer is an adult then it’s voyeuristic.

Some supporters of child pageants expressed concern that children went to the rallies. Girls and young women have the right to express their opinions and make their voices heard. That some school-aged girls chose to come at lunchtime to show their support is a testament to just how passionate girls are about protecting their younger sisters from being forced to become too sexy too soon and to be judged on their looks. One Year 12 student attended the Sydney protest to conduct research for an assignment, as did a university student. Susan Moretti, whose 17-year-old daughter goes to a school Enlighten has worked with for years, sums up the deep protective feelings of many teen girls:

I just had to calm my daughter down . . . she’s so outraged over this! It’s been talked about at school and ALL the girls feel so badly for the little ones who are cajoled to enter the pageants. I think they may even start a rally of their own by the sounds of their sentiment!

Melbourne Pull the Pin rally
School girls (and Betty Grumble aka Sydney-based performance artist Emma Maye Gibson) at the Melbourne Pull the Pin rally (Photo by melbourneprotests.wordpress.com)

Thank you, everyone who showed their support at the rallies in capital cities around the country. In Sydney, we even had a great-grandmother stop by to thank us for saving her great-grandchildren. The two policemen on duty at parliament house were both dads and they were behind us 100 percent. It seems that we had a lot of Sydney dads on our side: as two men in suits walked by, one of the organisers, Jenn Lane, overheard them saying they would never want their young daughters to be in beauty pageants. A member of a Muslim women’s group in western Sydney came along and offered to involve her community in the movement in the future. The rallies helped to publicise the issue, with media all over the country covering it, including Channel 10 news.

We need to keep up the pressure and keep spreading the word. One way in which you can be heard is by signing the online petition here:. As I so often say, the standard we walk past is the standard we set. Let’s not be complacent.

I always think laughter is one of the best ways to get a point across, so I’m passing on this gem that a friend forwarded to me:
prenatal pageants

And if you haven’t seen Tom Hanks’s send-up of Toddlers & Tiaras yet, you just have to watch it. Even a pageant parent would have to be made of stone if they can keep a straight face watching the “Miss Ultimate Sexy Baby” contest. Who knew Tom Hanks could sashay like that?

Published inBody ImageChild abuseParentsSexualisation of children

12 Comments

  1. It was great speaking alongside you in Sydney Danni. We just had the best day didn’t we?!
    Collett

  2. Karen-Leigh Green

    Hi Danielle,

    Loved reading your blog. The rallies in my opinion were a huge success. I also love Tom Hanks parody of pageants. As to Pretty Prenatal comps, what a laugh. Nothing would surprise me anymore in the sub-culture that is the world of child beauty pageants. I really feel that this will never take off in Australia. Most of us have a different mindset, value our children and dare I say it, intellectual level. Keep up the great work.

  3. This is just the most bizarre, appalling and disgusting practice and I hope that we never see the likes of this in Oz. Wonderful work Christine and Danni and all the wonderful people that attending these National protests.
    I love your quote about the standards we set too Danni. xx

  4. Great work Dannielle! What a relief to see there are so many Australians against pageants.

  5. reality check

    This is not the only Beauty contest get a grip people and get over this. Beauty pageants have been run in many forms through out Australia for many years. Just because some of them are only for teenage it does not change the fact and how different is this to an over obsessive father and mother who forces children to play sport. I did sport because my father forced me too and yes I have won State Titles and also international titles. I would of preferred to dress up in beautiful dresses.

    hears a few examples of Beauty Pageants already running in Australia

    http://www.littlemissbayside.com.au/page1.php
    Miss Teen Australia
    http://www.missuniverseaustralia.com.au/
    http://www.missearth.com.au/
    beautypageantsaustralia.org

    And the list goes on. Just because its not widely advertised or is it because you have had your head in the sand that you have never noticed these. Do your research before your react…..

  6. Sorry that you seem to have completely misunderstood the post Reality Check. At no point do I argue that we have not had beauty contests in Australia. Nor do I argue competitions for older teens or women should be banned ( although actually, I think they are incredibly out dated too). The argument here is quite clearly directed towards competitions like this aimed at small children. The introduction of American-style glitz pageants to Australia is a new development. And is one viewed as unwelcome by the vast majority of Australians, numerous educators, health practitioners and those considered to be experts in child mental health. In fact, I have not heard of ONE expert who is defending this practice. The only individuals who are speaking in support of Pageants are those with a financial interest in them (the organisers and marketers of pageant clothing etc) or those who wish to enter their child in these.
    To compare a beauty competition, where the outcome is determined by a narrow definition of beauty as defined by a panel of adult judges, to a competition based on sporting prowess ( which is acquired through skill, training etc) is simply wrong.

  7. Reality Check, unfortunately you seem to have misunderstood this article. It is not that we are somehow unaware that there have been beauty pageants in the past – what we are doing though is raising awareness of the harms of this activity.

    There are many of us, the world over, that have ‘done our research’ as you put it. It is exactly because of this research that we are speaking out about the harms to girls mental health. This is due to the accumulative effect of many sexualised practices that cause girls to grow up with a narrow idea of beauty and an encouragement to focus on the thin ideal. We are certainly not against dressing up (I have a young daughter of my own) but once dressing up becomes part of a contest that judges outward appearances, this becomes damaging.

    I am saddened that you equate beauty with sport – please go over to my article where I tackle 5 of the myths that people have about beauty pageants being ‘just a little fun’ (from a mental health perspective). These are well researched findings. http://www.thefamilyfactor.com/2011/04/child-beauty-pageants-misconceptions.html

    Collett

  8. Bluedog

    Have a look at an Australian Dance Eisteddfod. Make up, false eyelashes, hairpieces, suggestive moves and being told constantly that ballet dancers have to be thin. All this from the age of three,

  9. Britney

    To someone who said, it is wrong to compare a parent who forced someone with sports, and a parent who forces a child to do pageants, is just stupid, vain, and cold hearted. I can’t believe you would disregard some one’s personal feelings like that. She said she hated being forced to do sports and you say well “its fine to force someone to do something they don’t like, as long as it isn’t a beauty pageant” that is stupid thinking. Being forced to do something you don’t want to do, has psychological effects PERIOD. Beauty pageants are just another outlet for control freak parents. ALL parents who force their kids to do something they don’t like should be prosecuted not just parents of beauty pageant glitz girls. Btw Oprah got her start from beauty pageants, so I guess you Australians lied, and you actually hate her.

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