Beauty pageants for children are an ongoing subject of controversy, and many believe that they represent a specific form of child abuse. This is the question then examined in the following, as the nature of the pageants is set against how child abuse itself is generally defined in accepted ways. While certain types of child abuse are far more extreme, it will be evident that child beauty pageants constitute a form of it, and are then grossly unethical and likely damaging to the children involved.

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To understand how child pageants reflect child abuse, it is necessary to have a sense of what such abuse is. While sexual abuse of children is commonly associated with it, there are other forms and each represents harm to the child. Emotional abuse is in fact the most common type, and often connects to physical and/or sexual abuse. It is also expressed in different ways; parents may manipulate, verbally attack, or ignore children, all of which is emotional abuse. Physical abuse also ranges from isolated incidents of slapping or striking to consistent attacks creating injuries, and sexual abuse covers a range from inappropriate touching to rape of children. These practices are also within neglect, as each clearly ignores the needs of the child, and neglect is as well characterized by behaviors going from lack of attention to denial of basic needs of food and shelter (ASCA). In short, child abuse is any parental behavior that goes against the well-being of the child.

Not unexpectedly, child pageants as being forms of child abuse similarly reflects related types of abuse. To begin with, emotional abuse is strongly evident in how children are urged to participate, if not forced. The child is “trained,” and usually from a very young age, to focus on appearance and behaving in a way aimed at pleasing judges. They are made to develop any talent which will have the same effect, so a superficial reality is emphasized as being all-important. Parents essentially remove their children from normal childhood life in order to compete in the pageants, so the child loses a basic emotional foundation. Then, the nature of pageants is that appearance and talent are prized beyond any other quality. This translates to very young children being instructed that their value as people lies in how others see them as attractive and entertaining. Any such competition places extreme strains on adults; that children, who would certainly not pursue pageant life on their own, are compelled to enter into this arena is then severe emotional abuse.

Then, neglect and physical abuse go hand in hand with the emotional abuse. It is noted that child pageants operate on exhausting schedules of competition, and this is beyond what is healthy for a growing child. In fact, it is established that many mothers have their children eat large amounts of powdered sugar candy before performing, which is known as “pageant crack.” Other children drink combinations of high-caffeine energy drinks before the long pageant days begin, and are supplied with more sugar and caffeine to keep their energy levels up for 12 to 18 hour stretches (ABC News). In plain terms, children are physically manipulated as they are emotionally abused, since the concept of winning is reinforced as both demanding the exhausting efforts and validating the child’s worth. This is all a complex form of neglect. Each abuse limits or eliminates parental attention to what a normal child requires in terms of real emotional support, nutrition, and rest. It must also be reinforced that pageant parents are clearly motivated by interests for fame and money, and that it is highly unlikely that any child would assert a desire to enter into this life unless otherwise compelled to.

Child abuse in general exists in all arenas of life and, as noted, in a variety of behaviors largely related to one another. Even the most extreme sexual abuse is inherently emotional abuse as well, for example. The child beauty pageant, then, if not usually so extreme, is a case of multiple forms of abuse occurring simultaneously. Children are made to understand that their value is based on attractiveness, they undergo grueling schedules and diets by no means appropriate for growing children, and parental neglect is the larger form encompassing all of this abuse. Children are not at all likely to seek such a life, and even their willingness is removed from the parents’ responsibility to do what is best for the child. In essence, such blatant disregard for what a child requires to develop in a healthy way is completely ignored, and false values replace the real.

  • ABC News. “‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ Controversy: Mom Defends Feeding Daughter ‘Pageant Crack’.” 8 Feb. 2012, Web. 19 Nov. 2014.
  • Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA). Types of child abuse. 2014, Web. 19 Nov. 2014.