(As published 23/08/11 in On Line Opinion
'Pull the Pin on children's beauty pageants')
The Victorian Government thinks by sending Child Safety Commissioner Bernie Geary to the Universal Royalty Pageant held in Melbourne in July, they have done enough to investigate the harm beauty competitions have on children. Are they seriously trying to say that a visit to the pageant by Commissioner Geary, with no input from any other interest group or experts, is enough to make an informed decision about the impact of pageants on children and our culture?
The Victorian Government is ignoring the concerns of thousands of people who want to see the regulation of child beauty pageants not only in Victoria, but nationally and internationally. Opponents include The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, numerous women’s and children’s rights organisations, child development experts and academics, and the majority of the community: about 95 per cent according to numerous polls and callers to talkback programs who are overwhelmingly in support of action.
It’s easy to be outraged by the sight of a four, five or six year old waxed and coiffed to resemble a thirty year old and then encouraged to gyrate around a stage winking and blowing kisses to adult judges. If there’s one thing we can thank the show Toddlers and Tiara’s
for is its’ featuring of child beauty queens and over enthusiastic mothers. It brings to the fore debates about the sexualisation of girls in beauty pageants.
But is sexualisation in pageants really any different to other realms of children’s performance? Just recently I saw young girls at a local junior school performance sashay up centre stage before turning with a ‘booty slap’ to lyrics far more appropriate for their older audience than the performers’ six years. Attend just about any children’s dance recital, calisthenics concert, or cheerleading competition and you’re guaranteed to see similar sexualisation, if not more than at a children’s beauty pageant. However, to focus solely on sexualisation as the argument against pageants misses the point.
It’s not to say that we shouldn’t be concerned and speak out against young children being encouraged to emulate pole dancers. I am certainly a strong and active advocate for children being allowed to explore and express their sexuality in their own time and way. Yet, I do despair when all of a sudden the sight of a little girl dressed up as Lady Gaga or ‘Sandy’ from Grease at a public pageant is enough to send some commentators into a complete spin and lose focus about what is inherently and uniquely wrong with child beauty pageants.
Sexualisation wasn’t the reason I started the ‘Pull the Pin (on beauty pageants for children)’ campaign, in fact I hadn’t ever even seen an episode of Toddlers and Tiara’s
. My motivation was the issue of beauty competitions. Would you stand your two daughters or nieces side by side and tell one she’s more beautiful than the other? Whether they’re primped, preened, waxed and dressed in leathers and cone bras or straight out of the dress up box in their own creation with no make-up, for most people it’s a resounding ‘no’, on the basis that it would be a cruel and horrible thing to do, to both girls. But that’s exactly what beauty pageants do.
I work in schools delivering self-esteem, body image and media literacy workshops to teen girls, and most lack confidence about their image. Their negative self-talk comes from the onslaught of media and advertising messages. We see on average between 400-600 ads per day (TV, Internet, billboards, bus stops, etc.). One out of every 11 advertisements has a direct message about female beauty. That’s not counting the indirect ones. Most children aren’t media literate. Not enough adults are either. A media literate person can see the toxicity of the ‘compare and despair’ messages behind the beauty industry.
Mental health issues around body image and self-esteem are on the rise. Eating Disorders Victoria reports a 270 per cent increase in the number of girls hospitalised with eating disorders over the past 10 years. Some girls as young as seven years old are presenting with anorexia directly related to body image. Four year olds are calling each other fat and talking about diets and cosmetic surgery. In this context, a society that condones pitting young girls against each other in beauty competitions should be questioned.
In condoning beauty pageants we are saying it is okay to judge and reward our children for their physical beauty. We’re teaching girls that their physical beauty is their currency. We are actively marketing to them an industry that feeds off the insecurities created by a narrow beauty ideal. We’re telling them that to be worthy and to win the crownthey must fit that narrow ideal. Wax your eyebrows, spray tan your skin, put infake teeth. Botox for children isn’t that farfetched an idea. Beauty isn’t a talent or skill they can practice, enhance or improve. No other competition for children compares. As the beauty industry widens its sights to capitalise on the male market, driving men to spend more time in front of the bathroom mirror, will we see more boys thrust into beauty competitions.
To trivialise the importance of legislating against child beauty pageants is to trivialise how beauty obsession impacts on the status of women and the myriad of mental health issues around body image facing young people today.
Interestingly after many months spent spruiking the praises of pageants and spewing vitriol toward our campaign, Kristin Kyle the very woman who organised bringing the Universal Royalty pageant to Melbourne, has now conceded she agrees with ‘Pull the Pin’ after her middle child didn’t win a prize at the pageant. ‘My heart broke for her that her sisters were ultimately told they were prettier’ she said. Perhaps Commissioner Geary should speak with Ms Kyle now.
It’s a disgrace that the Victorian Government let an opportunity go to at least investigate these issues. In the meantime, other companies in Australia are soldiering on with their Toddlers and Tiara’s
style full-glitz pageants with categories including Most Photogenic, Prettiest Smile, Best Hair, Bright Eyes and Most Beautiful.
Physical beauty should never be a competition – especially not for children
Earlier this week I attended Victorian State Parliament (Upper House) with PtP supporter and occasional admin helper Pru, to hear some questions asked of the government in relation to the upcoming Universal Royalty child beauty pageant. Until the final Hansard (official parliamentary transcript) is published, you can read a transcript from Tuesday's proceedings here (cut/paste into your browser address bar): http://tex.parliament.vic.gov.au/bin/texhtmlt?form=jVicHansard.sum&debate=beauty+pageant&parliament=2011&logic=and
On Wednesday, Greens MLC Colleen Hartland put forward a notice of motion to the Upper House:
NOTICE OF MOTION:
– that this house calls on the Minister for Community Services to seek advice from the Victorian Child Safety Commissioner on the need for the regulation of child beauty pageants.
This notice of motion will be debated when parliament returns in August, so in the meantime please write to your state MP's (if you're in Victoria) and ask them to support this motion, and write to thank those politicians speaking out in parliament on our behalf firstname.lastname@example.org , email@example.com , and firstname.lastname@example.org . Or if you'd like to comment on Wendy Lovell's inadequate response to the questions raised in parliament, you can do so here: email@example.com, or help inform Richard Dalla-Riva's response to his question on notice: firstname.lastname@example.org (yes Mr Dalla-Riva, Eden Wood is coming to Australia to 'work' - unless Universal Royalty are just keeping all the profits from the advertised $50 a pop photographs with her, and $20,000 interviews?!!).
I also met again on Thursday with the Victorian Attorney General Robert Clark (who btw hasn't seen Toddlers and Tiara's, so feel free to send his office a link to the clip you most want him to see: email@example.com ). I am hoping that after this week's pressure, that the Victorian state government are now going to come good and at least thoroughly investigate the clandestine pageant proceedings in the next few weeks leading up to the UR event.
After my meeting with Robert Clark, I felt compelled to go directly to my Federal MP's office, where I met with a very supportive electorate officer. I am pleased to say that my Federal MP has since shown great interest in our Pull the Pin campaign, and we will work towards bringing this issue to the attention of federal parliament (hopefully next week as it's the last sitting week before the pageant in Melbourne.). As soon as I have confirmation of this, I will let you know what course of action to take by way of letters, etc.
Over the next few weeks I have meetings arranged with various agencies and state & federal politicians, and will be planning our 'Family Fun Day of Action', to be held at 12pm near the playgound at Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne on Saturday 30th July (UR pageant day). If you know of any children's performance artists who might like to support our cause and be part of the day, please let me know.
Wishing you all a great weekend, and happy school holidays!
Sharing these important, supportive comments first published after our PtP national rally. In case anyone missed the article, here's an excerpt:
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists says American-style pageants, like the one slated for July in Melbourne, promote an adult's perception of "beauty". When asked if they backed a ban of the competitions, chair of the college Phillip Brock told AAP: "Yes we do. The sexualisation of children can pose developmental harm and there's not a single good thing that can come out of the "circus" of pageantry. Direct participation and competition for a beauty prize conveys messages relating to the desirable self, social and personal value and shapes emotional and psychological development. Infants and girls are objectified and judged against sexualised ideals. The mental health and development consequences of this are significant and impact on identity, self-esteem and body perception."
How can any government ignore this?!
After so many great comments from PtP supporters about the You Tube pageant pieces I posted yesterday, I'm also interested to know why you think there is such a divide between us and pageant supporters. Why do you think they are oblivious to and/or reject what we see so clearly as harmful and toxic? Besides the commercial interests of pageant organisers, why are there so many parents (particularly in the U.S.) willing to enter their children in pageants? Do you think if glitz pageants were a 'new' thing in the US (as they are here) that there would be just as much of a groundswell of opposition to them there? Is there apathy because child beauty pageants have been part of U.S. culture for so long, therefore it seems harder to reject them as they're now entrenched? Certainly in the early days from their inception in the 1950's, despite still being a beauty competition and the girls sometimes being quite adultified, they were presented more 'Shirley Temple-esque' than 'Paris Hilton'. Do you think that shows like T&T (and the internet) have shone the spotlight on 'Planet Pageant' for us, especially the sexualisation, which has in turn forced us to look deeper into the entire pageant culture and its impact on girls and wider society? Of course beauty pageants have always been on the radars of feminists, not least because the vast majority of participants are girls. And what about the fathers? Where are they, and what do they think about their daughters being primped and preened and pitted against their peers? At our Pull the Pin strategy meeting last weekend, we had some great discussion about some of these issues. I'd love to hear your thoughts too as I believe it's important that we all try to understand the bigger picture. Please remember that whilst passionate and enthusiastic responses are great (and welcome), slanderous, personal attacks and/or racist comments aren't, so as always, please try to put your feet in other shoes before posting and choose your words carefully! I look forward to hearing your thoughts and following some interesting discussion. (: Catherine
Interesting news from the NY Post this afternoon. Mickey Wood has decided to PULL THE PIN on Eden's pageant career just weeks out from the Universal Royalty Melbourne pageant that 6 year old Eden has been the 'pin-up girl' for. Rehashing the same tired, old, unproven line that there have been 'threats' from Australian protesters, Mickey Wood cites this as part of the reason, along with her 6 year old wanting to focus on her recording career and her own reality TV show. (No really, it's all Eden's idea!).
So let's look at the threat. A supposed protester says in a Facebook forum (to Eden's agent it now turns out despite Mickey telling ACA about 'all the threats'), 'You might as well shoot yourself now'. OK, I agree - a stupid comment. However, that's not a threat. If it was, police would have stepped in by now. Seriously if this is all they've got, these claims of protesters posing a threat to Eden Wood and her entourage are a complete beat up.
So what's with the rehashing of false allegations? Could it be that the 'threatening Aussie protesters' are now the scapegoat for a mother realising there's not a lot of commercial interest in her daughter in Australia? We've heard for months now that there are 100 entrants in the Melbourne pageant, yet that number never seems to increase despite claims that 'all the media the protesters are generating'' is encouraging ticket sales. No doubt some people who otherwise wouldn't have heard of these pageants would enter their kids as a result of the media, but are 100 tickets enough to justify flying Eden Wood & company to Australia for an event that is losing support amongst the community with each new promo and airing of Toddlers and Tiaras, and doesn't have the endorsement of even one child development expert or politician? Also keeping in mind that some of those tickets would be for siblings, the actual number of families in Australia supporting Universal Royalty is hardly overwhelming.
Mickey's decision to pull the pin on beauty pageants for her daughter is purely a commercial one. Sadly for Eden, despite escaping Planet Pageant, she will still be viewed as a commodity - a product. And I think that poses more of a serious threat to her than anything.
I have received many queries about the events of the past few days in relation to the ACA story, so I'm posting a rundown of events beginning with a transcript from part of ACA's 'Pageant Threat' interview with Mickey Wood and Kristin Kyle:
ACA: We were talking to Mickey via Skype about how they were looking forward to their trip, when she revealed they'd been subjected to death threats.
(to Mickey via Skype) What sort of death threats?
Mickey: Ahh, well, ahh we've got 'em all saved, our agent has them. They've been coming for like a month, six weeks now, since there's been so much media on the botox and the pageant and the protest group over there.
(Cut to Kristin Kyle - Australians Who Love Beauty Pageants and pageant promoter)
Kristin: How can you send nasty comments to a child and say that you're protecting them?
ACA: Kristin Kyle who's helping bring the pageant down under was shocked to read some of the postings on Eden's facebook page. (Close up of Pull the Pin FB page)
Kristin: It said on her Facebook page for her and her Mum to go shoot themselves.
ACA: The abuse has heightened fears the event itself could be targetted. It'll be held in a secret location and Eden will have a body guard with her at all times for the duration of her stay.
Kristin Kyle: A lot of security looking after Eden, and also looking after our little contestants, and our fans.
(end of transcript)
Then after the ACA story aired, this from Australians Who Love Beauty Pageants (Kristin Kyle) in response to me stating on the PtP page that we had nothing to do with any threats whatsoever:
Yes Pull the Pin, The Police were sent offending comments, and are taking them seriously. I am extremely annoyed that PtP page is not taking this seriously...
Then this today from Heather Ryan (Eden Wood's agent):
'Allow me to clarify: It is astounding how a story can be skewed into outrageous sensational tabloid fodder. Please note that the Eden Wood camp HAS NOT received Death Threats! We have received ugly, disgusting hate mail, but they do not threaten Eden's safety. The correspondence are certainly a testament to how disgusting these so called, "Child Advocates" are, but they do not make me concerned for the well being of my clients, Mickie and Eden Wood. PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD. WE DID NOT TELL ACA OR ANYONE ELSE THAT WE WERE RECEIVING DEATH THREATS!!'
What the?! This is all kinds of WEIRD. Are there threats, or aren't there? Will there be 24/7 security? Or wont there? Who are these 'so-called Child Advocates' allegedly 'sending ugly, disgusting, hate mail'? And if they do exist, where are the police? And if there aren't death threats, why on earth would anyone say there are?!
Sign your child up for one of these beauty pageants anyone?! Hmm, I think they may need a better media strategy.
*Posted f.y.i. only genuine supporters of Pull the Pin - as usual, please refrain from entering into any unhelpful conversation with these people.*
From ACA last night: 'Now before we go, a word about last night and a breaking story we aired concerning alleged death threats made against child beauty pageant star Eden Wood. During that story there was a brief shot of a facebook page run by anti pageant protest group Pull the Pin. We'd like to make it very clear there is no suggestion whatsoever the Pull the Pin group or it's supporters have anything to do with the threats alleged by Eden's mother Mickey and we're happy to clear that up.'
Yesterday I met with Labor MP Martin Pakula, the Shadow Attorney General. He was listening, and he gets it. 100%. Totally supportive of our cause. In politics, that's the advantage of being the opposition government - you can come out swinging for the community despite not actually being able to deliver much. However I am confident that Mr Pakula feels as passionately about this as we do, and he will do all he can to apply pressure in parliament to ensure that we achieve the outcomes we desire, as soon as possible. It is good news that both the sitting AG and the shadow AG are 'onside' with us. Now we need to turn 'We're Listening' into 'We're Doing'. Mr Pakula has also agreed to make representations on our behalf to the Federal Attorney General, Robert McClelland.
As you're probably already aware, I've had to re-schedule our national public rally to May 24th, due to the 3rd being Budget Day for Victoria. This change will allow Mr Clarke and/or Mr Pakula to personally address the rally in Melbourne. Parliament will also be sitting in QLD, Tas and WA with NSW to be confirmed. Despite not being a sitting day for SA and NT, politicians will still be asked to attend/speak. To date the plan is for a 'Pull the Pin' representative in each state to open the rally, followed by a couple of speakers (including politicians and child development experts), ending with a call to action, and a walk to the nearest park/garden (details provided soon) where you will be invited to enjoy a b.y.o. picnic with fun, child-friendly activities. A co-ordinator for your State will be announced very soon, and they will also help disseminate information locally.
I will also be posting a shout out for appropriate banner slogans to use on the day. Pull the Pin will endorse slogans that we think are suitable and non offensive, and will encourage a peaceful, polite protest against beauty pageants for children.
On Thursday, I met with Victoria’s Attorney General Robert Clark to discuss our concerns about children’s participation in beauty pageants. As we’ve all seen, there have been no shortage of bloggers, petitioners, experts, individuals and groups (old and new) supporting our calls for legislation to ban such events.
The strong case I presented to Mr. Clark against beauty pageants for children was met with sympathy, understanding and concern, and as I pointed out to him, there has not been one professional in the area of child development or psychology come forward in support of child beauty pageants. Despite this, at the moment the Attorney General has reservations about legislating against these events as it may be seen as a violation of ‘parental rights’.
As I asked Mr Clark, when does a parent’s ‘right’ to enter their child into a beauty contest that will likely negatively affect that child’s self-esteem, become more important than the rights of that child? Is a young child able to make a conscious decision to enter a beauty competition, understanding all of the implications including the potential psychological impacts of competing in and losing such a competition? Does that child have any rights over their parents and pageant organisers publishing their adultified and sometimes sexualised photographs online for easy access by anyone?
What does a society that encourages little girls to be pitted against each other in a beauty competition teach them about their ‘value’? Considering that little girls are already subjected to the constant bombardment of messages in popular culture telling her how hot/thin/pretty/grown up she needs to be to be in order to be valued, it makes me wonder why any parent in their right mind would then voluntarily offer their daughter up for a beauty competition complete with a narrow (adult defined) beauty ideal, to be potentially told she’s not enough!
The Attorney General has agreed to investigate avenues where we may be able to take action to stop parents exploiting their children in child beauty competitions, including subjection of children to ‘adult’ beauty procedures such as waxing and spray tanning. He has encouraged ‘Pull the Pin’ and other concerned groups/individuals to continue to educate parents about the pitfalls of pageantry to deter them from entering, but as we’ve already seen, education is not enough as there are some parents who simply don’t (and wont) get it. The lure of prizes, trophies and ego trips that their child may be crowned the ‘most beautiful’, overrides any motivation (or duty of care) to investigate and acknowledge the overwhelming body of evidence against these competitions. Hence the need for our government to step up to PROTECT THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD, as they’re supposed to.
This week I am meeting with the Shadow Attorney General Martin Pekula. Details of that meeting, and more rally info to follow.
When news of the Universal Royalty Pageant’s Australian ‘invasion’ hit our screens and news stands, I was amongst the many thousands of people who felt literally sickened that such a beauty competition for children would even have a market here in Australia. I felt compelled to take action as this issue resonates personally with me, so living in Melbourne where Universal Royalty plan to stage their first Australian event, I immediately began to plan a Public Rally where we could all make our voices heard in a way that would not traumatise pageant participants, but would send a clear message to politicians and the community that we don’t want child beauty pageants in Australia.
As a Facilitator/Presenter with Enlighten Education, and Director of the Say No 4 Kids campaign advocating for children’s rights, I began the ‘Pull the Pin’ campaign to remain independent from any one group, as I believe this issue goes beyond any particular interest or politic, and can bring together a diverse range of groups and individuals, as we’ve already seen and heard in the media.
I have been encouraged by the many people who have contacted me expressing an interest in participating in the ‘Pull the Pin’ rally action, and am now looking to you to help me organise this rally in your state or territory.
If you would like to get involved and help co-ordinate things on the day, please inbox me, or email firstname.lastname@example.org . It would be great to have a diversity of people involved to show that this issue is one that a wide range of Australian’s feel very strongly about.
Pull the Pin Rally Co-ordinator 31/3/11