By: Lorène Belotti, Guest Blogger
On September 18, French officials voted in a new law banning Child Beauty Contests. This revived the debate and ongoing questions about the hyper-sexualization of little girls and the over-sexualization of women’s images.
In the USA, these types of competition are very popular, while in France they are considered not very honorable and a little bit square.
French competitions have existed for the last 23 years, are less outrageous than American pageants, and are governed by a lot of rules. In January 2012, these regulations were made stricter by an Ethical charter. It says: no girls younger than 7-years-old will be allowed to participate. Wearing make-up and high heels are forbidden in the same way that parading in swimsuits or other revealing clothes would not be appropriate for young girls. Clearly, they wanted “natural” little girls.
Participants’ moms clearly don’t think these competitions are a problem, arguing: “it’s far from being as extreme as in the USA where little girls are hyper-sexualized and seem to be 25 years-old.” These moms hide behind the short skirts, make-up, and fake teeth bans to argue that these contests are still nice and innocent events for children.
The truth is, the impact is not so harmless. Contest selection criteria are the same subjective ones applied to adults: beauty, intellectual pertinence, and artistic qualities. Judges still look at the child’s smile, elegance, and her dress. Despite claiming that there is no excess in French beauty contests, more and more proud mommies, fans of the American TV show Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, a show that features a little girl and her family who seem removed of inhibitions, come to the beauty pageants with a declared desire to win the competition no matter what. Girls disrespect the rules regarding high heels and make-up, they also put on “suggestive” attitudes, and have been known to resort to mean behavior backstage in order to destabilize the “opponent”.
Chantal Jouanno, the former minister who suggested this new law and fought for it, stated: “We cannot let our little girls think that they are worthy only thanks to their appearance. We cannot let commercial interest prevail over social interest.”
Studies demonstrate that the hyper-sexualization of young girls negatively reinforces stereotypes. Moreover, this competitive environment about beauty can be very destructive for fragile teenagers; it can lead to depression, eating disorders, and big self-esteem issues.
Angelique Cimelière, a French clinician psychologist explains that from ages 6 to 10 children are in a “learning period” in which emotional drives are “frozen” to let the learning process develop itself. This is only possible if the kids feel safe and remain in a trusting environment, which is clearly the opposite of the beauty pageants where they are encouraged to participate in adult behavior. The hyper-sexualization is super negative because young girls adopt the attitudes of grown up women, but are not mature enough to handle this part of the mature world.
Moreover, at this age, young girls’ self-esteem is very fragile and in a phase of construction. The little confidence girls earn with the beauty contest is always thrown away in the next competition. These kids think their value depends on what they win but they win only because of their physical aspects. The big risk for their future life is that they will probably see other women as competitors they have to beat in order to feel secure.
I do think it’s a good idea to forbid beauty contests. Let’s face it: as grown women, we’re fighting every day to break down the messages we receive through mass media, and we clearly struggle with self-confidence issues because of it. Being at ease with ourselves is a long process and clearly depends on our education, environment, and sensibility to all these messages.
It’s totally insane to prematurely bring little girls into this climate, especially knowing their self-images are fragile. I believe it’s completely irresponsible to let them go through these contests, knowing how their present experience impacts the health of their future selves.
Beauty contests give the wrong message to these malleable girls. Competition with other girls over beauty topics, seriously?! What do you do about being smart, nice, understanding, interested in people, and interesting to people? Childhood should remain a sweet place where you can dream and feel secure, where you don’t have to fight against adult nastiness and ego, where you play all day long and don’t know how far people can go for competition, and where nobody will walk over you and hurt you just to be better than you.
I truly believe that if we want to make the world a better place, we have to give all the little girls a chance to grow up in peace, to build strong personalities, and to become as confident and respectful of others and, most importantly, themselves.
Lorene is a French observer and learner of life. She’s been working as a salesperson and a marketing assistant for four years to learn the ropes of the business world. She used to be a sports journalist while doing her Master’s degree and she loves writing and telling stories about great people too much not to go back to her first love soon. She lives in the French Alps, and loves to try to solve the world’s problems while having a great meal with her loved ones. She is passionate about foreign languages, self-development books, American TV shows, and people. Oh, and she’s a total nerd of Academic studies (when she’ll win the lottery, she’ll go to Harvard).
Featured image via mamiverse.com