‘Despite being known for its overtly sexual content and verbally abusive teaching tactics, Dance Moms fever has infected the country’
By Jemma Nicoll
Eyes shining with delight, Nia twirls and twirls as shimmering pink feathers soar in the wind swelled by her rapid movement. Encased in the fluorescent cage of a burlesque feather fan, she is mesmerised by her imitation of a Las Vegas Showgirl. Adorned in silver glitter-speckled shorts and a nude sports bra, Nia’s outfit for her upcoming dance competition fulfills its designer’s intention of creating that stark, naked illusion.
“I’m hot! I’m mean! You can’t have me! You can’t afford me!” screams her choreographer as Nia endeavours to channel the sensual character; coordinating the fan and challenging dance routine of high kicks, hip grinds and eye winks. She is training to win gold, alongside her troupe of six other mock-topless, feathered friends.
“This costume’s better than all of the other costumes because it makes my body look pretty… it makes me look beautiful,” Nia says.
Nia is eight-years-old.
“It is as if contemporary girls are in a great hurry to grow up,” says Marika Tiggemann in her latest study, ‘Contemporary Girlhood: Maternal Reports on Sexualised Behaviour and Appearance in 4-10 year-old girls’ , released June last year. Tiggemann and fellow researcher, Amy Slater, from Flinders University in Adelaide, are the first to document the appearance-obsessed behaviours of young Australian girls. Results show that an epidemic of girls aged four to 10-years-old are prematurely engaging with teen culture, and exhibiting hyper-sexualised behaviours through attention to personal grooming, clothing and bodily appearance.
Are our Generation Z girls too sexy too soon? (freeimages.com)
The study of almost 1000 girls has forecast a bleak outcome for Nia’s generation, whose earlier burlesque display was seen by millions on Dance Moms: the show tracking the pre-pubescent stars of Abby Lee Miller’s Pittsburgh USA dance studio. The show is a growing place of worship for thousands of aspiring Australian dancers, and the wallet swallowing the income of their parents who recently paid hundreds for their daughters to attend classes with Abby Lee, on March 13 at Bankstown Sports Club. Despite being known for its overtly sexual content and verbally abusive teaching tactics, Dance Moms fever has infected the country.
“As a society, we have yet to see the consequences of an entire new generation of girls brought up in a highly sexualized environment.” said Tiggemann.
“If the focus on appearance…becomes their habitual way of viewing themselves, then this is liable to have negative consequences for their well-being as a teenager and as an adult woman.”
According to Tiggemann’s results, by the age of eight, 28 percent of Australian girls are dissatisfied with their physical appearance, 76 percent are particularly fussy about what they wear and are frequently asking: “does this look good on me?” and13 percent are exiting the house with a made-up face.
And out of all the things little girls love to do, there is one common denominator that surpassed all activities listed in the study: 96 percent love to dance.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reports that at April 2012 there were 727,000 girls aged five to 14 years participating in an organised sport outside of school. Of this figure, 418,100 were enrolled in a dance school (58 percent), up from 390,400 in 2009. The rate of Australian girls participating in dance lessons is rising by annual increments of tens of thousands; it is certainly happy days for current and prospective studio directors.
The Lolita Effect
“Come on we’ve got these good bodies now, and they’re not going to last forever so let’s show it while we’ve got it. Come on, put it out there girls, you’ve got it. Now flaunt it!”
Deborah Watson, primary school teacher and Learning Support consultant, animatedly re-enacts an overheard dance teacher working with the school’s lunchtime dance groups.
“How old were the dancers? Eight, nine, 10 years old,” she says. “Then there were four girls in this particular school who had more solid builds…they pulled out because their parents said they don’t feel comfortable in those costumes, but the teacher wouldn’t make allowances to alter the costumes for them. I spoke to a mother whose daughter is self-harming too, since quitting dance group from being teased.”
“You fit the costume or you’re out, is the idea.” she says.
Watson is a serial ‘mystery shopper’ of Sydney dance studios. The mother of two daughters, aged nine and 15, has spent the last 12 years embarking on a series of ‘free trial classes.’
“I heard a parent once ask why the kids did so much abdominal work at the beginning of the class, and the teacher’s response was ‘because we’ve all got midriffs for our costumes this year, and the girls need to have flat abs’.” She vividly describes the hot pink, sequined equivalent of a string bikini, with fishnet stockings and black jazz shoes.
Social researchers call it the ‘Lolita Effect’; a term to describe the imposition of sexualisation through mass media messages, on young girls whom are yet to reach the required development. Watson is convinced that local organisations are flying under the radar in fuelling the Lolita Effect.
“In this other school, nine and 10 years old girls were heavily made up. What struck me was the eyeliner, this is what they chose to wear to class to fit into the group dynamic,” she said.
“The girls had crop tops and tiny shorts. There were only two girls that had a full leotard and they were very much over here on this side,” Deborah gestures left, “and those in the crop tops were over here. It was very clear who was in and who was out.”
The Eisteddfod Battleground
Dance eisteddfods, hundreds of them, are dotted around the country. They are a magnet for studios to gather, compete and showcase the works of their students.
Sydney adjudicator, performer and high school teacher Melissa Lukins, is disappointed by what she has critiqued at eisteddfod events: “I’ve observed as an adjudicator the unusually sexual nature of young dancers’ facial expressions, their movements, costumes and general attitude towards dance performance.”
Lukins lists countless influencing factors.
“‘Dance Moms’ has seemed to propagate this…. as students see other dance schools presenting this type of choreography they pressure their teachers to fit in with the culture. It is alarming,” said Ms Lukins.
At the Front Line
It all became too much for Dodie Wilson, another NSW adjudicator and retired studio director, who is actively opposing the culture she has witnessed in her 25 years of work in Australian eisteddfods.
Dance eisteddfods are a second home. Pic: Jemma Nicoll
“Once it’s on stage, it’s seen. It’s out there. You can’t take it back. The minute that child gets on stage in an inappropriate costume… too late, everybody’s seen it,” Wilson says.
“The minute they’re flashing their private areas, it’s done. In front of brothers, uncles. And that child…that eight, nine, 10, 12 year old child has been, in a way, violated. They have done what they were told to do.”
Wilson is paving the way in the local eisteddfod scene by hosting a ‘child safety’ competition event that is the first of its kind. With the glitz and the glam, come guidelines.
“They must wear stockings at all times…two-piece costume items must be seven centimetres from the bust, and I have actually banned particular movements,” she said.
The syllabus outline distributed to participants spells out the consequences of entering the event, launched in Seven Hills Sydney last October. Immediate disqualification applies to dancers where costumes do not cover seven centimetres of midriff, where lyrics contain sexual content, and if choreography includes the banned movements.
“Any music or movements that seem to be breaking the rules or are inappropriate, a bell will ring, the music will start to fade and we will motion the child on stage to curtsey…the routine will be stopped.”
Perhaps teachers should submit their music and costume selections prior to the event, to minimise the risk of humiliating a child onstage.
Wilson says she has had an overwhelming amount of positive support through private messages over social media, however she is disappointed that little public support has been offered to counteract the backlash received from online groups.
“Teachers are scared. They are scared to be part of the change, for whatever reason in case five years down the track it changes back again or it just doesn’t work,” she says.
“Will you lose students? Maybe. But then you’ll know you’re doing the right thing.”
Pic: Jemma Nicoll
Amongst other influences, Wilson attributes the hyper-sexualised studio culture craze to RG Dance, infamous for its former director now facing child sex offence charges. She describes their competition troupes as mechanical in precision with faultless technique, miniscule outfits and adult-themed concepts. They won gold each time.
“Teacher’s saw this, they believed they had the secret. So they copied.”
How will the sexual messages shouldered by young dancers today potentially affect adulthood?
“I believe they will be so brokenhearted, that they will have nothing to do with the dance industry when they’re older,” she said.
Dance, Sex and Science
According to medical doctor turned sexologist and writer, Patricia Weerakoon, the increase of girls engaging in dance communities, determines the need to assess studio culture in line with documented hyper-sexualised behaviours.
“Everything that goes into the brain, especially during that rapid development of childhood, will influence the brain’s wiring. As the child grows, and the more sexualised their culture [is], the more the brain will recognise at building those sexual circuits. It will recognise it as something that is normal or good.”
The University of Sydney’s Honorary Senior Lecturer in Health Sciences has spent 40 years as a medical practitioner, sexual health educator and sex therapist. Dr Weerakoon’s concern for what she calls ‘raunch culture’ stems from years of research into childhood brain development.
“It’s called Neuroplasticity,” said Dr Weerakoon.
“From the time the baby is developing in the womb… the brain adapts based on what is going on. In a child’s brain, everything from birth through to teen and young adulthood, that time of quick and rapid growth is a time where [there] is a huge amount of brain wiring and rewiring.”
“And what we know is that [the brain] is influenced by social environment, the environment that the child is in. Everything that goes into the brain changes the wiring,” she said.
Dr Weerakoon holds grave concerns for the wellbeing of the post-millennial generation, whom she believes will be the most sexualised people to walk the planet.
“They see themselves in a way that empowerment, being powerful, being popular, means you have to make yourself sexual. [Because of cultural pressures], girls are making themselves sex objects, and are willing to give sex, be sexy, dress sexual,” she said.
“If you are running a dance studio, you have a great responsibility because the music you play and what you are teaching, everything you say is working into their brain.”
Dr Weerakoon urges parents to speak up: “Parents must be parents; parents must say no, parents must say: ‘for my child, this is not right’. You have to be proactive… because I guarantee when you stop one avenue of sexualisation others will spring up… But be proactive to do something about protecting kids,” she said.
“And teachers need to do the protecting from their end too.”
Call for tighter regulation
For dance teacher of 18 years and mother of four, Elizabeth Wever, her experiences within the industry demonstrates an urgent need for improved teacher training.
Wever was subjected to strict dieting and exercise regimes from a young teenager, an endeavour of her dance teacher to assist in achieving the ‘correct size’ of a dancer.
“I yoyo dieted and struggled emotionally with weight issues as a result until my twenties…when I quit dancing as a result of being told too many times I was not the right body shape for a dancer.”
Mental and emotional recovery was a long and arduous road.
“I am long past caring about the judgment of others about my body shape…however it breaks my heart to think that other young girls are being subjected to this type of scrutiny,” she said.
Wever and Watson are concerned that dance teachers are not undergoing thorough training or regulation procedures.
“There is not enough regulation in the dance industry,” says Watson.
“If we can regulate the fitness industry… if we can regulate after-school care… you can’t even work in vacation care unless you have a certificate. But you can go out and open a dance school and teach dancing to all with no qualifications.”
“How many dance schools out there have a Working with Children check? Do parents even look at that?” asks Watson.
A number of tertiary institutions across Australia offer Dance Education certificates and degrees, a compulsory qualification for those seeking employment in the public school sector. However this is not mandatory for studio ownership. There are no required certificates or standardised procedures.
The national peak body for Australian dance information is Ausdance. Despite the range of online resources available to encourage the aspiring teacher, on the Question and Answer page of their website, it states:
“Q: Do dance studio teachers have to obtain a dance teaching qualification?
Mental Health in the Studio
In May 2014, The Frontiers in Psychology Journal published that anxiety and depression accounted for the highest disease amongst Australian children today. Aside from external stresses of divorce, grief, and life transitions, experts rank internal factors such as irrational belief systems and pessimistic tendencies as high risk factors for mental health issues.
So do dance teachers hold any responsibility for engaging with mental health matters, and the internal consequences of teaching practices?
“Of course,” says Jane Cuneen, Principal of Caringbah North Public School, a large primary school in Southern Sydney. Cuneen is also the mother of an aspiring young dancer.
“All adults who have the privilege of teaching young minds have the responsibility to develop the child socially, emotionally and spiritually as well as physically, regardless of their specialty.”
Cuneen is saddened by comments of dance teachers regarding bodily expectations and the need to be ‘sexy’.
“Is it that these teachers don’t have the training that says comments like these are detrimental and have long lasting emotional and psychological effects on our girls?”
“Most parents don’t even know that these comments are being directed at their daughters. Because most dance classes are closed doors, we don’t know how our kids are being treated.”
“When those core beliefs have been set up, those things that your parents said was ok and that your dance school said was ok…. well to challenge them is a very hard thing. What happens when those core beliefs let you down?”
“In 10 years time we’ll be picking up pieces of these girls that are damaged.
“But it can be avoided.”
#tilttuesday: are girls at risk of being preyed on?
There are 172,311 posts currently under the #tilttuesday hashtag feed. Then there are 3,434 under #tilttuesdays for those who prefer plurality and 324 for #tilttuesdayy for those rejecting mainstream spelling. The list continues of the variations of categories young dancers enter in Instagram when posting their ’tilt’ photographs (on Tuesday).
A’tilt’ is when a dancer extends their leg up to 180 degrees away, and tilts their torso slightly to one side, or ‘off-centre’, so the leg reaches maximum height and split. It can be elegant when executed correctly, an impressive display of flexibility and strength. However should the dancer not yet possess the level of strength to execute the ’tilt’, they grab hold of their ankle with both hands and push the pelvis forward in order to take the stress off the hamstrings.
This can produce a distorted display of exposed body parts, as girls as young as eight capture, caption, hashtag and post for the worldwide, weekly phenomenon of #tilttuesday. This has become the most popular online fad for young dancers who seek the connection and approval of fellow artists around the globe.
Conversations overhead as a studio director suggest division among dance teachers over the craze, many encouraging their students to participate and even do so themselves. It’s ok; they’re stretching and having fun, they’re not intentionally posting in an overtly sexual way. I disagree.
Open your Instagram application. Click ‘explore’, type in ’tilttuesday’ and start your own search. Among the thousands of young girls, many in sports bra and booty short attire in dance studios, on front lawns or in bedrooms, you may stumble across the image that caught my eye in particular: a girl of around age 16, striking the position in white translucent boyleg underwear; the shadows of her pubic hair and the physical outlines of genitalia clearly visible.
Continue scrolling; aside from the “You’re not doing it properly”, “Your tilt is normally better than this” and comments targeting thigh wobbles, belly rolls, breasts, lack of visible abdominal lines and attacks on dancers’ bodies and skill, you will see comments like this:
“Love to f**k you in that position.” This Instagram handle has posted zero photos and maintains a steady stream of two followers; we can only assume his online activity is simply to peruse and predate.
“Do you ever dance naked?” This user is a Chelsea Football Club fanatic who regularly posts photos of beautiful young girls.
“Are those stripper bruises on your thighs?”
“Close your legs, it stink.”
“I’m single, that’s all I got to say.”
“Wats poppin tonite??”
“DM me.” Or ‘private message me’; repeatedly from the same user on multiple photos on the #tilttuesday feed.
This is, in my view, a pedophile’s playground.
Dancers innocently upload images, eyes are drawn to their private areas and men unashamedly publicise their approval. They express their desire to sexually act on the posed dancer, a minor, a child. They are open about their enjoyment of the image.
Comments are not deleted nor images removed. Instagram provides no zero privacy settings.
No blame is to be cast on these dancers. A 10-year-old girl has not yet mastered the ability to assess the consequences of an image. She is simply playing copycat with her peers, her dance teachers, and succumbing to the pressure of what needs to be performed in order to gain the acceptance that Instagram ‘likes’ provide.
There are 172,311 #tilttuesday images worldwide subject to the scrutiny of perusing eyes. If you check back next Tuesday and see for yourself, that figure will no doubt have risen. It is not until she is well into adulthood after potentially wrestling with body image, mental health issues and more, that she may look back and regret the online broadcasting and exposure of her fragile, precious little body in such a way. She may one day ask her teachers, parents and guides, ‘why didn’t you say something?’
Jemma Nicoll is a UTS Journalism graduate and freelance writer. She directs Inspire Creative Arts, a dance school in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire and is involved in mentoring and self-esteem development programs for girls.
Did you even know Australia had a Federal Children’s Commissioner? We don’t hear that much from her – so thought we would try to get her attention and involvement on this. Let her know you want her to act by signing the petition today!
Condemn & Take Action to Stop Exploitative Universal Royalty Child Beauty Pageant from coming to Australia
Universal Royalty’s Child Beauty Pageant is coming to Melbourne, Australia, despite clear evidence from experts that the practise is detrimental to the normal and healthy development of children.
Child beauty pageants are exploitation. Little girls are made to undergo unnecessary and painful beauty treatments such as waxing, tanning and even botox. They are adorned with make up, high heels, false eyelashes, acrylic nails, flippers (false teeth) and hairpieces. They are primped and styled to look and act like mini-adults, to flirt with the judges and to be sexy and alluring.
The pageants teach girls from a very early age that their worth is based on their appearance. Research shows that reinforcing an emphasis on looks and attractiveness leads to negative body image, disordered eating, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. There are now over a hundred global reports on the issue of sexualisation of children. This research has shown that sexualisation is harmful to children’s cognitive functioning, physical and mental health, sexuality and beliefs.
A parliamentary report recently released in Western Australia by WA’s Joint Standing Committee on the Commissioner for Children and Young People called for child beauty pageants to be scrutinised as one of several ways to tackle the sexualisation of children.
Last year France outlawed child beauty pageants for children under 16 to protect them from being prematurely sexualised. Pageant organisers face jail time and substantial fines for harming children in this way.
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”.
Teaching little girls to preen and to strut, to look sexy for the judges, to emphasise sexualised behaviours is totally inappropriate for children. We want better for our girls and call on Megan Mitchell, the National Children’s Commissioner, to publicly condemn and take action to stop the Universal Royalty pageant from coming to Melbourne on August 2nd 2014.
The exceptional Australian author, journalist, literary critic and essayist Antonella Gambotto-Burke, is on the verge of releasing her latest book Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love.
When I first began reading Antonella’s books and essays (in Vogue, Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Rolling Stone and elsewhere), I was taken aback by the quality and eloquence of writing, the mastery of language, the way she captured and described people so acutely, her often acerbic observations and sharp wit. A magazine profile she wrote on former footballer Warwick Capper and his wife Joanne (included in The Best Australian Profiles, Black Inc., 2004) had me in hysterics. Another profile, not so amusing, on the porn star Sasha Grey, was beyond comparison. Her writing on the global trade in female bodies should be mandatory reading for anyone concerned about human rights violations. The Eclipse: A Memoir of Suicide, (one of her five books) is an intimate and searing portrayal of the death of her much loved brother at his own hand. Its pages drip with grief. But she would consider her greatest achievement her daughter Bethesda who arrived as a later-in-life gift which caused an earthquake in her soul and caused her to re-arrange her life and priorities.
For those interested in the theme of motherhood and attachment parenting, comes Antonella’s latest work, Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love. In addition to her essays on love, death, marriage and motherhood, Mama includes long interviews with (in her words – I say that because I’m included!) “some of the most extraordinary people alive today: Steve Biddulph, Stephanie Coontz, artist Michael Hague, Tom Hodgkinson, Sheila Kitzinger, Laura Markham, Gabor Mate, Michel Odent, Attachment Parenting International’s Lysa Parker, MamaBake’s Michelle Shearer, Melinda Tankard Reist and many others. Connecting with each of them was a tremendous privilege”.
“A gifted writer, Antonella needs only a few lines to turn our attention toward the essential” writes obstetrician and visionary Michel Odent in his introduction to Mama.
Antonella argues that there’s no place for a debate between stay-at-home mothers and working mothers. “The debate we should be having is with the architects of a culture that makes calm and attentive parenthood close to impossible”.
“A number of women I know stifled their sensitivity and maternal instincts to compete in male-dominated spheres, eroding – and, often, destroying – the most important relationships of their lives.
“The bar is masculine, and women must adopt traditionally masculine characteristics – cultivated insensitivity, goal-orientated thinking, the prioritizing of the material – to compete,” she writes.
In her book, she asks why we are still conditioned to understand sensitivity as weakness, and why we continue to accept this conditioning. Other questions she raises include:
- Since when did ratification from a dispassionate boss trump the nurturance of human life?
- When did motherhood come to be understood as a series of “thankless tasks”?
- Why are breastfeeding numbers around the world dropping?
- How have we come to understand babies as “blobs”?
- How can we heal rifts with our children?
- What is behind the tsunami of behavioural disorders?
- Why is our culture so sexualised, and how is it affecting our children?
- What roles do fathers have in making a serene experience of motherhood?
- Why are so many children committing suicide?
- What are we doing to mothers, and how will this impact on our own future?
Sydney: April 23, Mosman Library, 7pm, Antonella will share a conversation with Steve Biddulph, one of the world’s bestselling parenting authors, about Mama, motherhood and attachment parenting. Wine and food. Bookings essential, and can be made through Pages & Pages Bookshop in Mosman.
Melbourne: May 30 Readings in Hawthorn Melbourne,12pm. Bookings are essential here. Cost of tickets is redeemable against the cost of the book.
Northern NSW: May 6 Lennox Head Library, 10am, with Michelle Shearer of MamaBake.
Other events to be announced.
To preorder Mama: Dispatches from the Frontline of Love, click here
As a special offer to MTR readers buy Mama for $5 off the RRP of $34.99. Click through to Arbon Publishing , add Mama to your shopping cart and enter the code: MTR to receive your discounted copy.
Collett Smart, child adolescent psychologist and educator, reports on the child beauty pageant recently held in Sydney. Collett was invited by Today Tonight to give an outsider’s opinion on the event.
“She’s a gorgeous girl isn’t she?”
“Give them a round of applause, aren’t they stunning?”
“What a lovely dress!”
“Wow, Sydney Australia, where did you get these beautiful girls?”
Notice a superficial theme anyone?
As with last year’s event, the feathers, false nails and fake tans were rolled out alongside the rhinestones and ruffles. I’m not talking about an adult cabaret routine, oh no – these were girls from 3 years old and up.
You guessed it – the pageants were back in town, with Mickie Wood and her daughter Eden (who has retired from competing to teach other girls about pageantry at the ripe old age of 6) along for the ride. And Mickie was one of the judges this year.
“We didn’t know they were here?” I hear you say. Well, it appears to have been kept a secret. Although, I’m told by some pageant organisers that it wasn’t…
Saturday saw Universal Royalty Beauty Pageants (and Eden) strutting their stuff at the Paddington RSL in Sydney. The day before, I was invited to attend the event by Today Tonight and provide comment on what I saw, since nothing had been publicly advertised. (Something to hide maybe?)
The room had a guard at the door and no signage anywhere inside or outside the RSL to indicate that the event was being held there. Contrary to what some thought, I sat openly amoung the crowd.
So was anything different this year? Yes and No.
There was a similar line of costumes and categories as last year, but only about a third the number of people. How do I know numbers were lower? Because I attended last year’s pageant (by personal invite) as the only ‘outsider’ then too. (See my story here)
As with last year, the competition had entrants from various locations around Australia. However, this year there were only between 2 and 4 entrants per age group and some age groups were not even represented. In the words of a mum seated in front of me,
“B really wanted to enter but there weren’t enough entrants for her age group, due to all the secrecy and everything.”
So when the mothers tell me on my Facebook page “They like to keep numbers low” I don’t buy it. We don’t hold secret soccer matches now do we?
As before, the competition was ‘tough’, well according to Annette Hill anyway. “Oh my goodness judges, how are you going to choose who will win the $1000?”, she asked repeatedly.
How would they indeed – and why should they choose anyway? What gives these adults the right to nominate someone else’s child as a winner, by virtue of the skin they were born in?
The main category again saw the girls wearing evening gown style dresses. “Here we have S wearing an X colour dress accentuated with rhinestones and ruffles. She has X colour hair and X colour eyes, her favourite food is X, her hobbies are X and Y.”
Sounds more like a pet parade than actual children who should be celebrated for their unique gifts and skills.
To the credit of 3 of those amazing teens, they had ambitions of being a brain surgeon, a police woman and a teacher. My message to those girls, “Get out of that toxic culture before it steals your soul and makes you think that you are only worth the shade of lip gloss you wear.”
All this happens while parents cheer on with, “Sparkle baby!”
Sparkle baby? Are you kidding me? What is that? The only thing that ‘sparkles’ are the rhinestones on the ruffles because what do pageants teach young girls to ‘sparkle’ in? The answer – Beauty, outward appearances and ‘poise’ (thanks Annette for that one). Not skills, sporting ability, artistic ability or inner qualities.
My heart broke when I heard a tiny 4 year old come directly off the stage and ask, “Mum, did I do ok?”
“Do ok at what mum?” I wondered.
Do ok at looking pretty or wearing her lipstick correctly? And what if she doesn’t win her age group? Obviously she didn’t ‘do ok’ then? Well that’s the message she gets even if indirectly.
If she didn’t ‘do ok’ at looking pretty enough, what does she do now mum? She can’t go home and practice looking prettier? Sure, she can wear a new dress or buy a new shade of eyeliner but she can’t change who she is and what she was born with.
What if she’s never ‘ok’ enough to win? What does that do to her then mum? How will she see herself in comparison to other girls? Does she ‘throw up’ to look as skinny as contestant B? Ask for breast implants at 16 to look like contestant C?
But it’s all ok apparently, because Mickie Wood who was a judge this year, told us that we needed to cheer the girls on so that they all felt special (but obviously not special enough to win the $1000 for something they cannot ever get better at).
Mickie and Annette also assured us that each girl would ‘feel valued’ because they would get a free photo with Eden Wood, a Universal Royalty t-shirt and other goodies. Um… ok?
The fact that this event was kept a secret is a win in my mind. Except, when I dared say that on my Facebook page on Saturday, I was initially told that this was completely untrue and that I was a just a spy, a stalker and a grown up bully.
Not surprising really. Last time I heard from the pageant crowd I was told to go and F…myself, shoot myself and that I was obviously just jealous.
So, besides looking like there was something to hide, the secretive positioning possibly kept others from enrolling and also kept less young girls from being exposed to Universal Royalty’s toxic culture than last year. All good to me.
Last year saw The Darebin City Council ruled that their venues can no longer be used for an event where children aged 16 years or under compete on the basis of, or are judged upon, any aspect of their physical appearance. The policy states,
“Organisers will have to ensure that adjudication is based solely upon a child’s skills or talents; the routines, music and costumes are age appropriate and all competitions are carried out in a spirit of encouragement.”
Australia also saw hundreds of child development experts and child psychologists speaking out against the harmful effects of pageants on children.
“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.” (The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists)
So while this is a ‘free country’ and parents are free to ‘parent’ in whatever style works for their family, there are certain issues around which I will continue to be an advocate for children. These include; children being supplied with alcohol, tobacco or other harmful substances and children being physically or emotionally abused. I have to say that I stand by the voice of the RANZCP and believe that child pageants fall within the realm of developmental abuse.
The biggest irony of the day was watching a group of teen girls engaging in martial arts in a room next door. These girls were learning to use their bodies in a manner that builds strength and develops healthy self-confidence. My hope is that each Toddlers & Tiaras girl will one day get that opportunity.
Child beauty pageants deprive children their childhood says Miriam, 14
Most people are lucky enough to have had a childhood. They were allowed to play in the mud, sometimes eat mud, run around and be as messy as they liked. But today, too many children around the world are being forced to dedicate themselves to a beauty pageant life.
Small children are forced to dress like adults, wax their eyebrows (even though there are hardly any eyebrows to wax) and pose for hundreds of people so that their parents can win some money.
Participating in these child beauty competitions means that the child is denied an authentic childhood. The ramifications of this are huge. These poor children, sometimes as young as three-years-old are taught their self worth is based solely on appearance. This mindset is further reinforced through the media which declares what women should look like.
By participating in these child beauty pageants, the children are denied an authentic childhood. The beauty pageants are very time consuming. The children need to choose outfits, jewellery, makeup, shoes and hairstyles. This leaves little time for the child to play and have fun with other children. The child is denied the opportunity to be carefree and simply to have fun because they will run the risk of ruining their beautiful features or get dirty! This has and could quite easily be interpreted as child abuse.
Another major issue with child beauty pageants is that they imply that self worth is based only on appearance. These poor children will grow up thinking that they are only worth something if they look good. These young girls need to be shown that their worth is based on their characteristics, talent and personality and not what they look like. By participating in beauty pageants and being judged only on what the judges see is just the beginning of a damaging way of thinking.
The way that women and girls are shown on television, the internet and in magazines is highly unrealistic. As these girls grow and mature thinking self worth is based only on appearance, they will begin compare themselves to the touched up images they see of other women in magazines or on the television and judge themselves according to the images they see.
This can ruin a girls self esteem dramatically. If a young girl believes that she is not worth anything if she does not look how the judges or the media says she should, she could suffer depression and anxiety.
Child beauty pageants offer no positive outcomes but instead result in the deprivation of a fun and playful childhood which all children have the right to enjoy.
No parent has the right to pressure their child to participate in these destructive competitions. No parent has the right to pressure their child to pose for a set of judges based only on what they are wearing or even not wearing. No parent has the right to maketheir child apply makeup to an already perfect face causing skin damage in later life. And no parent has the right to deny a child their childhood.
These pageants are not just about pretty clothing and fancy hair, but by looking deeper it is very clear that child beauty pageants are destructive. No child should ever have to experience such a hideous and soul destroying competition.
Miriam is a student and lives in the Blue Mountains, NSW
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