Toddlers in Tiaras - Is the runway any place for your two-year-old?

The fee for entering your child in a beauty pageant may not seem like much of an investment, $40 may be all that's involved in the basic entry. Think twice (or twenty times) before you add your child to the 300,00 who stroll down the child beauty pageant aisle each year. Beauty pageants appear to be addicting - at least for the parents - and a lot more expensive than they appear at first glance. This is an industry, involving hundreds of pageants, which generates more than a billion dollars a year in revenue.

The costs are only the proverbial tip of the iceberg. In all possible ways, from the point of view of this child therapist, putting your child (let's call this what it almost always is, your daughter) on the beauty pageant stage is a terrible investment. Let's start with the financial costs.

In TLC's premiere of Toddlers in Tiaras, Pageant Director Annette Hill mentions the $5,000 Ultimate Grand Supreme prize about every four minutes. We are also urged to remember that there is a $1,000 Mini Grand Supreme. The winners are encouraged to "fan" these bills out for the excited audience. But, according to Brian Bethel, the actual dollar figure that each family spends competing in a state pageant usually ranges between $500 and $3,000.This episode of Toddlers in Tiaras was filmed at a Texas (where else?) pageant. The parents insist this is all about fun and hard work, that the children love it and benefit from the experience. One mother explained to Bethel that she guesses she, "just liked to be the center of attention...I guess that's where my little girl gets it." Another explained that she, "used to show dogs, but now shows her kids." A third said that she, "takes pageants very seriously," that she is a "competitive mom." In whatever belief system guides parents in this world, her competitiveness paid off: her daughter won the Ultimate Grand Supreme and she was a runner up in the moms section of the competition. In fairness, the daughter seemed able to cope both with her mother and with the show.

Unfortunately, two-year-old Ava, who was rehearsed to proclaim, "I love trophies," and "I love pageants," (why not just get a parrot?), "only" won first runner-up, which, according to the rules, put her out of further trophies for the event. Her father - who had sewn all her costumes - explained that he would have to, "get my little girl and explain to her that today wasn't one of her days." It's hard to say why he had to do that - given that Ava had been awarded a trophy larger than she was and couldn't possibly have known - unless someone conveyed it to her - that everything wasn't hunky dory. The pageant director proclaimed Ava, "a little over-energy today - that's what we need to work on."

Their child's hard work is one of the things that pageant parents take pride in and use to illustrate the benefits of competition. Here is the opposing view.

Childhood has its own developmental tasks and children are injured when they are co-opted into performing - for their parents or anyone else. Little girls in dangling rhinestone earrings singing, "We're going to get money," or provocatively and self-consciously strutting their five-year-old or ten-year-old stuff isn't cute. What's going on between the parent and child is far more about the parent's needs and feelings than it is about the child. The child is just what she appears to be - a puppet.

One of the posts on Bethel's article remarked, "A little girl getting into her Mother's closet and playing dress-up is adorable. Putting eye-shadow, eye-liner, mascara, rouge and lipstick on a five-year-old, then tarting her up in an adult costume and parading her on stage for money is...well..a little sick in my opinion."

At some point, most little girls would like to wear a tiara. A silver mini heart tiara sells at Claire's for $10.50 and there are dozens available on eBay starting at 99 cents. Go for it.


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