What would you think if I said that I was going to take a four-year-old boy to the gym and have him work out (with size-appropriate weights, of course)? What if I then take him to a fancy store and had him try on clothes for hours while I looked on and made critical remarks? What if I then took him home and forced him to eat a very regimented diet to get rid of any “baby fat” that he might have left? What if I then put him in a competition with other little boys to pick out the most handsome, most charming, most physically appealing among them?
Does that sound wrong to you? It does to me. It sounds outrageous and purely fictional when describing a boy, but what if I told you these scenarios are actually happening all the time to little girls from the time they are babies to when they are teenagers? I grew up in a tiny little town in the deep south state of Mississippi. Pageants are a thing. Everyone, who is anyone, who has an even remotely “attractive” child, puts her in a pageant at some point. I was in a pageant. In fact my husband did a ton of pageants as a child because some boys do participate. I was never going to be able to do pageants regularly, mostly because I was stubborn and didn’t like having my picture taken or wearing dresses and my parents didn’t push it…thankfully!
Consider for a moment what being allowed to – or forced to – wear makeup, poofy dresses, and perfume will do to a toddler or small child. We don’t have to think very hard or very long because the consequences of these actions now have a “reality” television show. While “Honey Boo Boo” is the most recognizable person from this show, Toddlers and Tiaras features a ton of other children that we can look at as examples of what happens when beauty pageants and their ridiculous standards of physical perfection are a regular part of a child’s life. And it’s not pretty.
Dozens of people are voicing opinions on both sides of the line. What if all of this pressure, all of this emphasis on physique and how well they perform was focused more solely on little boys? Would as many people be ok with it? I don’t really think so. As crazy as it sounds we, as a society, would not place that pressure on little boys. It would not be fun for them. So why would we place that same pressure, that same emphasis on the physical, on little girls? Girls tend to have issues with self esteem their entire lives because of societal pressures. This beauty pageant mentality, this dress me up like a china doll and parade me on stage with a dance routine meant for a grown woman mentality is at the heart of some of that. Obviously it is not the whole problem, but it does play a role.
What can we do? Maybe you think this doesn’t apply to you, but it does. I don’t have children but I influence, positively or negatively, at least 30 kids a week. What I can do is focus them away from the physical. I can remind them that it is what is inside that counts. I can show them, with the way I carry myself, with the words that I use to describe myself and other people, that physical beauty is not important. I can be happy with my face and body the way it was made, without makeup or a spray tan. If we want to change the way that men and women perceive themselves, I firmly believe it starts with children and the way we show them to accept themselves.
What do you think?