Flicking through the television channels one night I came across something that made me shudder with moral disgust but I also couldn’t look away. Reality show ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’, a show about beauty pageants for children held a morbid fascination over me. How can parents think it’s a good idea to tan, dye and preen their little darling children to be judged by a room full of strangers?
At the tender age of just six, Eden Wood, is already a veteran of the child beauty-pageant circuit. She has published a biographical picture book and recently released a single Cutie Patootie, which had its TV debut on CBS in December. Her “career” to date is disturbing on many levels. Can anyone see low self eesteem in this kid’s future?
At this age I was too busy playing with my friends and begging my mother to stay up late not penning lyrics about “rockin out the pageant stage and shakin’ my booty”.
Eden’s mother, a former beauty queen herself (surprise surprise), has been blasted for putting such a young child into the spotlight in this way, but she defends herself saying Eden has made her own choices from the age of three years.
Against this backdrop, it is easy to understand why news that an American-style child beauty pageant, Miss Princess Ireland, set to take place in Dublin next month, has stirred up controversy.
Pageants have a bad name for good reason. Think Little Miss Sunshine, a movie which exposed the seedy underbelly of the competitions; or think of Jon Benet Ramsey, a child star who was murdered at the age of six. These events typically feature little girls made up like miniature glamour models. Children should look like children not pin up girls.
The opposite of her peers, Olive, the character in the Little Miss Sunshine movie, was endearing and beautifully innocent. Up against ultra-competitive highly stylised pre-teens, it was clear she was not in their league and had set herself up for a humiliating experience.
And you have to wonder could this scenario be replicated in an Irish version of the event. The thought of any little girl in that position is heart-breaking.
Since the news first broke, organiser Ms Jorja Gudge has gone into hiding saying she does not want any further media coverage.
She did however give details saying it will be a “glitz pageant” with three sections — sportswear, formal and wow wear. About 40 girls up to the age of 21 can enter and there will be different age categories. The girls will be judged on personality, presentation and beauty with beauty counting for the “least percentage” and personality the most important. After all beauty is only skin deep.
Prizes will be American-style pageant crowns, trophies, sashes and some cash prizes too. With an entry fee of €110 for young hopefuls, and €5 for anyone besides parents, you don’t have to be a cynic to consider this a money-making scheme.
Beauty pageants are obviously big business. It’s estimated that 250,000 children compete in more than 5,000 pageants in the United States each year.
Eden Wood’s mother Mickie Wood, maintains her daughter has made about €50,000, though she says she has spent $70,000 on beauty essentials, such as spray tans, fake hair and photos — with one dress costing up to $3,000. I am no accountant but those numbers just don’t add up.
More than 20 pageants are held in Britain each year with thousands of girls — and in some cases boys — taking part. Many of the contestants are as young as five and one pageant excludes anyone over the age of 12.
Concerns that these pageants are a breeding ground for paedophiles are rife and real but yet they continue to be open to the general public. Parents are putting their children in dangerous situations and are teaching them how to be sexy and grown up before their time.
For a successful child beauty queen the rewards can be substansial – the winner of Junior Miss British Isles can expect to pocket £2,500.
Sasha Bennington, 13, is one of Britain’s most successful child beauty queens. Her role model is Katie Price and in an attempt to achieve her look she undergoes a gruelling beauty routine which includes a weekly spray tan, acrylic nails each month and regular hair bleaching to make it “super blonde”.
This is the kind of behaviour pageants seem to encourage. So it is naive to expect the Dublin one will be any different?
The event was to take place at the Portmarnock Hotel in Dublin, but this has since changed as the hotel did not want any bad press which might be associated with it.
The Facebook page advertising it seems to be generating interest and according to Ms Gudge, it will be going ahead as “many people would be let down if we did not”.
From the media coverage I have been seeing the only one that would be let down is Tom Hanks as he would not be able to get brilliant material like this.