It is without question that the western world is obsessed (if not paranoid) with body image and how we physically present ourselves to the world. Idealized body types and figures are perhaps one of the foremost priority in our minds from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep, and perhaps for some, even in their dreams. As a medical professional I have often seen young women suffering and struggling with the worst scenarios of this battle for physical perfection, and the age of these girls seems to get younger and younger. However, although I have often pointed the finger at the media and big businesses for their role in brainwashing generations of impressionable young people in hopes of making money off their insecurities, there is (and probably has been for a while) another factor in our society that has contributed to the growth of this body image disease – Parents. Not just any parents, but insecure, self loathing, childhood deprived, and narcissistic individuals who try to make up for their own lack or loss of talent through their children by putting them in children pageants.
Now when it comes to pageants, that’s another controversial topic that deals with women’s rights vs. their objectification – and I’m not going to get into that. However, when children are put into these pageants and paraded around in costumes, gowns, and even swimwear, it makes me wonder where people draw the line between cute and pedophile bait. It also had me thinking about how early children become sensitized and aware of body image and the concept of having “the perfect body”. You may have seen the show “Toddlers in Tiaras” and may have noticed that the young girls done up with makeup, hair extensions, and literally thousands of dollars worth of clothing and accessories develop a common personality. They become demanding, tempered, and even abusive (especially towards their parents). What’s even more disturbing is that the parents take this abuse without question. But what’s important to note is how this behavior is being correlated with body image in the mind of these young children. What they’re being taught (consciously or subconsciously) is that “this type of behavior is appropriate when you are the prettiest.” These pageants also embed other dangerous messages in the minds of these young kids: “You’re only a winner when you look a certain way”, “To be liked and appreciated you need to be the prettiest”, and “Being sassy and sexy is o.k, even if you’re a child.
So is it any wonder that these children grow up with the same mentality? It seems that more and more of these young girls grow up with the drive to be the prettiest and therefore dominant female in their group of friends and peers. And when the reality of their biology begins to creep up and they’re faced with the fact that you can’t always be the perfect figure, desperation often drives them towards extreme measures such as eating disorders and unnecessary cosmetic surgery. What’s ironic is that many of these girls turn out to be just like their parents as they get older, and the cycle of living out your ideals through your children continues.
Teaching your children to be competitive is not a bad thing, but it is important to teach them to be competitive at something useful, like academics or sports – Pageants are neither. It’s also important to let children be children. Hours of makeup, hair, and pedicures are not important or useful for children, they are only an extension of a desperate parent’s personal insecurity. Perhaps if these same parents put in the same amount of time and effort in their child’s education or physical health, they may find a great deal of satisfaction in the joys of parenting. Somewhere along the lines, they may also discover the unique inner beauty of each child and teach them how to share that with the world. Too bad there’s no crown for that.