We must protect our kids from the catwalk of shame
Why can’t Australia be more like France?
While our country held the world’s first parliamentary inquiry into the sexualisation of children – and has done nothing since – the French parliament has begun taking action on its inquiry, with a move to ban child beauty pageants.
The 2008 Senate inquiry into the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media environment continues to gather dust. But the French have taken their 2012 report, Against Hyper-Sexualisation: A New Fight for Equality, more seriously.
On Tuesday, a bill to outlaw child beauty pageants passed in the French senate as part of a wider law on gender equality. It will go through the national assembly before becoming law. Organisers might face a jail term of up to two years and a fine of €30,000 ($43,000).
While the wording of our report was soft, the French report by former sports minister and centrist senator Chantal Jouanno was unequivocal about the harms of sexualising girls.
It called for the ban on child beauty pageants – also known as ”Mini-Miss” competitions – for under 16s. It also recommended a ban on child-size adult clothing, such as padded bras and high-heeled shoes.
Jouanno expressed concern young girls were being disguised as ”sexual candy” in a ”competition over appearance, beauty and seduction”. ”Let us not make our girls believe from an early age that their only value is their appearance,” Jouanno told the senate. ”Let us not allow commercial interests to outweigh social interests … we have a duty to defend the superior interest of the child.”
If the French can say no to sexualised doll-girls, why can’t we? In 2011 Universal Royalty pageants came to Australia, staging events in Melbourne, Sydney, Gold Coast and Perth, meeting significant opposition. We protesters (I was one of them) didn’t think it was in the best interest of girls to deck them out in fake hair, eyelashes and teeth, garish costumes and grotesque make-up to perform provocative routines before judges.
The dominant message of pageants is that physical beauty equates to worth, providing external validation that looks are most important. They reinforce stereotypical ideas about what constitutes female beauty. The MC at the Sydney show raved excitedly about how ”beautiful” the
In August of that year, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ Faculty of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry said: ”Direct participation and competition for a beauty prize where infants and girls are objectified and judged against sexualised ideals can have significant mental health and developmental consequences that impact detrimentally on identity, self-esteem, and body perception.”
A 2005 study in The Journal of Treatment and Prevention reported ”a significant association between childhood beauty pageant participation and increased body dissatisfaction, difficulty trusting interpersonal relationships, and greater impulsive behaviours”.
The child modelling cancer isn’t just seen in events imported from the US. A ”model search” at Queensland’s Ashmore State School was held for children as young as two as part of a Family Fun Fair last year. Prizes included modelling courses worth hundreds of dollars.
Queensland Minister for Education, Training and Employment John-Paul Langbroek wrote to a complainant in July 2013 that the ”modelling competition was perceived by the … school community as in essence little different from trialling for junior sports teams …”
Of course, it’s not pageants on their own that are the problem. It’s a system that treats women and girls as decorative objects; that emphasises physical appearance over everything else, teaching girls to draw attention to their bodies, not their brains.
Commercial interests continue to win, with corporate social responsibility thrown on the scrap heap in the quest for profit. The previous government washed its hands of the sexualisation problem, claiming industry ”self-regulation” was working. If this is regulation, I’d hate to see what a free-for-all looked like. And it is guaranteed the new government will do the same. It seems our rulers are beholden to big business. Australia is being left behind, as Britain also takes significant action to address the issue.
Research shows that reinforcing an emphasis on looks and attractiveness leads to negative body image, disordered eating, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. But as long as someone is making money, who cares if children are exploited?