August 18, 2011


It’s tough being a girl, I know that. Debora Tolman, a professor at Hunter College and author of “Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls talk About Sexuality,” recently commented on the impact of toddler pageants on the rise in America. According to her, such pageants teach girls to focus on looks rather than inner feelings (“Good Housekeeping,” 8/11). Supporting her argument is a 2005 study published in “Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention.” It discovered that girls who participated in child beauty pageants fared worse in their body assessments of themselves than those who suffered from bulimia.

The majority of children who participate in these pageants come from working class homes. It’s a surprising statistic, given that parents can pay thousands of dollars to promote their offspring for prizes worth as little as $500. But the proper presentation of a contestant involves paying make-up artists, costume designers, deportment coaches and yes, agents:

           “We tend to think that we’re very class-mobile in America… But the fact is, we’re not.  Most working-class girls…are going to die working class.”     

(Melissa Harris-Perry, Ph.D in “Eating Disorders: The Journal of Treatment & Prevention”)

                                       (Yahoo Images)

It’s hard not to denigrate an industry that feeds off the aspirations of girls and their parents. It’s easy to understand the dreams of the participants. What’s more, the desire to “dress-up” is so common one might think it’s in the female genes. I remember teetering around the house in my mother’s high heels and pleading with her to make me a princess costume for Halloween.  

Acting out our dreams is natural and healthy, if we apply common sense. The danger lies not in dressing up or attending a pageant. I once participated in a Shirley Temple pageant. But Shirley Temple was an adorable child. Shirley Temple was never adorned as a sex object. And that makes all the difference.