Pageants Are Leaving Tiara-Shaped Scars

Alex EricsonFebruary 19, 2019Reality and PerceptionFeatures
Pageants Are Leaving Tiara-Shaped Scars

A six-year-old girl, caked in makeup, dances across the stage. As she dances, she remembers the hours in a hard chair, her mother poking and prodding her to perfection. Her mom told her this was her moment.

The six-year-old thinks she’s beautiful, but is this real beauty? As someone who is watching these pageants from the outside, I wonder: does she really believes that how the judges rate her defines if she is beautiful or not?

Beauty pageants depict young girls as objects instead of individuals. The world of beauty pageants is lagging decades behind the rest of the world. That little girl is almost like a doll up on that stage. These days, even Barbie is changing, but beauty pageants are not. With ridiculous amounts of makeup and clothes that even adults would be alarmed to wear, contestants are judged on their looks. They appear as though they are gilded; they seem perfect on the outside, but all the perfection is just concealing the problems that are lying beneath. In order to reach a high standard of beauty, they endure abuse, both physical and mental. Beauty pageants are demeaning to young girls’ sense of self-worth and foster an environment of abuse. The long-lasting effects of pageantry are altering young girls’ lives, and not for the better. Beauty pageants should be abolished in order to save young girls’ perceptions of what beauty really is.

Are the lessons being taught to these young Queens realistic for later in life? It hardly seems so. These impressionable juveniles are being raised with false morals. As a pageant mother explains to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), “When my daughter wins she subconsciously gets the message that when I present myself, I feel good about myself and people respond well to me.” Young girls are being taught from an early age that beauty is the only thing that really matters. This is perilous to their sense of self-worth. Is this the message that should be taught to the future generations? Most people raised outside this child beauty pageant circuit are taught that no matter how they present themselves, they are still valued and should still feel good about themselves. They know that confidence in themselves is what leads to success. Beauty pageants, on the other hand, are based solely on beauty. Pageant directors try to defend themselves by saying that they also focus on the children's personalities. But as the article “End Child Pageantry: A Psychological Nightmare” asks, why don’t the children speak? How is it possible to judge a child by her intelligence without ever hearing her say anything? These judges only see the young girls walk across a stage. They don’t see the full reality, only the girls' appearance.

The glitzy smiles of the young competitors are painted on for a reason. Contestants endure far more abuse than any child of their age should. These girls are put through the pain of waxings, Botox injections, artificial tans, acrylic nails, and hours of hair styling and makeup application. Even though their mothers may be able to endure these high beauty standards, young girls should not be put through them. The question is, are they old enough to even know what consent is? These growing girls are also being denied naps and are up from early dawn to late dusk. They are then reprimanded when they melt down. The standards that they are being held to are entirely too high. Most girls in our current society already seem to have a lack of body confidence, so the message that abusing yourself to reach perfection is the only way to be beautiful is an awful one to teach to future generations.

Furthermore, some girls don’t even want to be part of this ruthless pageant circuit. Most contestants are introduced to pageants by their parents, who often fail to differentiate between themselves and their daughters. They are trying to live vicariously through their children. This can put unrealistic pressure on these young girls. When they fail to meet these almost impossible standards, the girls feel like failures, and many even become depressed. Pageant participants are facing both physical and mental abuse that harms their sense of identity and purpose.

The reality of pageants is far from what most perceive. We want to see the smiles and joy but not the tears behind the scenes. Fans only see the little princess with a tiara dancing across the stage, not the tiara-shaped lifelong mental scars that are lying beneath. “End Child Pageantry: A Psychological Nightmare” cites a study conducted that found, “Of 131 females who participated in beauty pageant contests, 48% reported a desire to be thinner, 57% stated they were trying to lose weight, and 26% had been told or were believed to have an eating disorder” This alone shows how many scars are left behind after competing in these pageants as a young child. Additionally, according to Jessica M. Kelly and Lance C. Garmen in the article “What Really Lies behind the Tiara,” “the beauty pageant group had higher rates of body dissatisfaction, interpersonal distrust, and impulse regulation problems.” Heidi Gerkin, once a pageant competitor, speaks of her distrust of fellow women: “Most of my close relationships have been with men. That sounds really bad, but in the world of pageants, someone might perceive someone as a friend, but really they seek out weaknesses and turn that around on you. You never knew who was really a friend.” The corruption of this woman's trust shows how some women who compete in pageants can never figure out who to get close to again. Will every woman become a predator? Pageants ruined Gerkin’s sense of who she is and her trust in people, distancing her from society.

Pageants can also leave financial scars. Each year, a participant can spend up to $5,000 for only a couple of pageants. While the money they win might go into a college account, these amounts are only a small portion of how much money went into the pageants. For most of these girls, this money is taken from their college savings, since they are under eighteen.

Although there are clearly huge downfalls to pageants, many past competitors argue they are also good. They claim that pageants have given them confidence and determination to pursue excellence and that they now have confidence in front of other people. They are no longer afraid to have the public watching solely them after they walked across stages at a young age. The same girl who spent hours in her chair being poked and prodded may now feel moments of self-worth. They say that they have been conditioned through pageantry to succeed and believe that winning is the path to success. They now want to win throughout the rest of their lives, meaning that they always try hard, no matter what. But what if the contestants’ urge to win is based on things that shouldn’t be a competition; for example, how someone looks. Asking “who is the most beautiful?” is such a shallow pursuit. It ignores inner beauty. It makes people shells, worthy only because of their outside appearance. In 1968 a feminist group called the Women's Liberation Front stated, “Pageants epitomize woman's role as a passive, decorative object.” It seems like the world of pageants is retrogressing instead of progressing. The pageant community needs to ask itself, “Do we want to raise our children in this hostile environment?”

As Golda Poretsky said, “Beauty shouldn't be about changing yourself to achieve an ideal or be more socially acceptable. The real beauty, the interesting, truly pleasing kind, is about honoring the beauty within you and without you. It's about knowing that someone else's definition of pretty has no hold over you.” Fans may say that pageants give young girls confidence, but they are not thinking of girls who are throwing up in the bathroom every day. Fans only see what they want to perceive. In our day and age, it often seems that our perceptions of beauty are skewed so far from reality. Pageants are the perfect example of this. These young girls are only seen dancing on the stage with huge smiles and perfect nails. It is never asked, “do these five-year-olds want to be doing this?” Reality is often darker than we want it to be. We perceive the good and ignore the truth. Maybe in order to change our society-based standards of beauty, we need to see these little girls’ reality instead of just our perception.


“Do Child Beauty Pageants Go Too Far?” Canadian Broadcasting Network. November 14, 2011.

“End Child Pageantry: A Psychological Nightmare.” Sites at Penn State. April 26, 2016. childbeautypageants/

“Four Reasons to Keep Your Daughters out of Child Beauty Pageants.” Child Development Institute. April 12, 2016.

Goode, Laura. “I Was a Child Pageant Star: Six Adult Women Look Back.” The Cut. November 14, 2012. star.html

Kelly, Jessica M., and Lance C. Garmon. “Perceptions of Child Beauty Pageants and Their Impacts: What Really Lies behind the Tiara?” Atlantic Journal of Communication 24, no. 4 (2016): 201-15.

Alex Ericson is an eighth grader at Yarmouth Middle School in Maine. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with friends in the few moments that she is not in the pool.