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Kambra Potter, Spring 2013 Students

Do children’s beauty pageants help or harm young girls?

By Kambra Potter

Jr. Princess contestants wait for their interview at the 2012 International Junior Miss national pageant in Orlando Florida.

Jr. Princess contestants wait for their interview at the 2012 International Junior Miss national pageant in Orlando Florida.

     Despite ongoing controversy about the possible negative impacts, children’s beauty pageants have grown into a subculture of their own. Although the proliferation of television shows such as “Toddlers and Tiaras” and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” has created negative perceptions about beauty pageants focusing on materialism and superficiality, many “natural” pageants exist for young girls throughout America, including in San Diego county.

Some pageants are sans superficial

     “Natural pageants” are very different from what is seen on TV. These pageants prohibit contestants from wearing makeup before a certain age and promote confidence based on personality and inner beauty, rather than physical appearances alone.  These pageants also focus on giving girls an opportunity to make a difference in their communities, gain self-confidence and make new friends.

One of these natural pageants is the largest of its kind for young girls. National American Miss is a nationwide pageant, which offers thousands in scholarships and cash prizes each year to girls from ages 4 to 21. Girls compete in an evening gown competition, personal introduction, interview and community service.

There are six age categories, and the winner in each division proceeds to the national pageant in Anaheim. Each state titleholder also receives a $1,000 cash prize as well as a crown and banner.

National American Miss also awards contestants for the following optional competitions:

  • Casual Wear Modeling
  • Actress
  • Spokesmodel
  • Talent
  • Photogenic
  • Best Resume
  • Miss Personality
  • Academic Achievement
  • Best Thank You Note to Sponsor
  • Volunteer Service Award

If the tiara fits, wear it

Pageant mom Michelle Edwards says she entered her daughter, Grace, into the National American Miss California pageant when she was 4-years-old to help Grace gain self esteem. Grace is now 10 years old and Edwards says the pageants have had a positive influence on her development.

“The very first time we went to the very first pageant we ever went to, it was, I’m getting chills thinking about it, because it was one of those things where I realized, as a mom, that she was in her element,” Edwards said.

Grace still competes in this pageant and recently won $800 dollars by winning the optional “Casual Wear Modeling” competition for the Junior Pre-teen age division at the national pageant.

“I realized she was around girls that were just like her,” Edwards said. “She loves it here. She lit up. She made friends so easily and she just didn’t want to leave, so I knew that that was where she wanted to be.”

Grace Edwards competes in the Miss Junior Teen California pageant in Downey, Calif. She reflects on her pageant experiences over the past six years. 

Below are some other “natural” pageants available to girls in Southern California.

“Reality TV” conflicts with reality

Although the shows “Toddlers and Tiaras” and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” have gained a tremendous following, they have also received extensive criticism for promoting false ideas of beauty.

The shows feature “Glitz” pageants, which are quite the contrast to “Natural” pageants. “Glitz” pageants focus on aesthetic perfection and allow any artificial enhancements to increase a contestants score. Parents also spend extensive amounts of money on preparing for “Glitz” pageants.

Gaudy and glitzy gowns, excessive makeup, spray on tans, hair pieces and even false teeth, commonly referred to as “flippers,” are all commonplace on the popular TLC reality shows and during many “Glitz” pageants.

The competitions usually include a formal attire presentation, talent routine, a casual wear or other theme-specific outfit, and sometimes a swimsuit modeling routine.  The pageants are usually open to both boys and girls beginning around age two and lasting into early adulthood for young women.

As with natural pageants, “glitz” competitors also aim to win a crown, banner and cash prize package. These pageants, however, focus much less on community service and place more emphasis on competitiveness and winning.

Many pageant women feel the media’s portrayal of beauty pageants is not an accurate representation of young pageant competitors.

Pageant competitor created her own pageant

Danielle Walker, who began competing in pageants at age 14, says she enjoyed the opportunity that pageantry gave her to improve her skills. Walker is now 23-years-old and recently created her own pageant for girls called Miss Calfornia Icon.  

The Miss California Icon pageant director, Danielle Walker, and 2013 Miss California and Miss Teen California Icon share their experiences in pageants. 

Miss Icon features a “blind” interview, where the judges are prohibited from seeing the contestants. This enables contestants to be scored solely on each young woman’s communication skills instead of on physical appearances. Interview accounts for 30-percent of each contestants score.

The remaining 70-percent is comprised of evening gown and runway, which each account for 30-percent, and an on-stage question, which makes up the final 10-percent.

Another feature of Miss Icon is its partnership with the global nonprofit organization Red Eye. Red Eye is comprised of young creatives who use their spheres of influence to volunteer their time organizing proms for senior citizens at convalescent homes, serving youth in the South Central Housing projects, and holding food drives for hungry families, among other things.

“Pageants encourage self-evaluation, which, in my case, lead to self-improvement,” Walker said. “I developed a newfound sense of awareness, worked to perfect my communication skills, body language, and charisma, and as a result, I experience a great advantage in job interviews, public appearances business negotiations, and social interactions.”

The road to the win costs time and money

Being a pageant mom isn’t easy, according to Edwards, who said a lot of work goes into pageants behind the scenes that most people don’t realize.

“I did not grow up in the pageant world, so I didn’t know anything about it,” Edwards said. “It was very new to me.”

Before the events, she has to make a list and prepare everything from the competition wardrobe to the attire her daughter will wear during rehearsals and even for dining out during a pageant weekend. She said that Grace works with two coaches to help her with her interview skills, poise, and public speaking skills.

“The hard work goes into the preparation,” Edwards said.  “Once the pageant begins, it’s time for the fun.”

Her daughter has made many friends, and although pageants are competitions, Edwards says there is a family-like bond that both Grace and herself have made with many other contestants and pageant moms.

“Everyone is very kind, very friendly, very helpful,” Edwards said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re competing for the same title. Everyone helps each other out.”

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