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Arkell's Ark: Who’s The Pretty Girl, Then

…One young Australian mother claims a degree of responsibility and level headedness by stating that she will not be using fake tan, makeup or hairspray on her young daughter. Considering the child in question is 10 months old, that’s amazingly commendable and shows a high degree of restraint…

Columnist Ian Arkell abhors the very idea of child beauty pageants.

Well over the years I guess I’ve seen some of the darker and weirder aspects of US culture imported and absorbed by a large number of Australians. And in some respects I think we’ve surpassed our cousins in terms of bad taste and social irresponsibility. Certainly we’ve exceeded their penchant for fast food and reality TV shows. But at least with these last two we’ve managed to stay just this side of downright stupid. Just.

But now it appears that the penultimate idiocy, the child beauty pageant, is about to visit Australia in an attempt to establish the industry; which is fine if you like the trivialisation and exploitation of children, more specifically, young girls.

Several mothers quoted from US sources are reported as saying that the activity is simply designed to foster self esteem and to enable their daughters to become more confident, more competitive. One young Australian mother claims a degree of responsibility and level headedness by stating that she will not be using fake tan, makeup or hairspray on her young daughter. Considering the child in question is 10 months old, that’s amazingly commendable and shows a high degree of restraint. ‘We want her to be natural’ her mother states, rather paradoxically I would have thought. And besides, I guess her ambulatory skills would preclude heels and swimsuits at this stage. There’s always next year I guess.

In another report, a single mother and beautician, Kerry Campbell, resident of San Francisco, admits to regularly injecting her eight year old daughter with Botox to reduce wrinkles and, I suppose, ensure she maintains her child-like complexion. The young girl is a regular participant in the beauty pageants and has expressed a desire for both breast augmentation and nose surgery. Her mother, whose grip on reality may be only marginally stronger than her daughter’s, believes she is acting in her daughter’s best interest for the future; ensuring that she becomes physically attractive and becomes a success in the entertainment field - certainly a worthy goal for any psychologically disturbed mother. The report also claims that during such pageants, the use of Botox to ease out the odd wrinkle and plump up that sagging eight year lip is not uncommon.

It’s really good to have these young girls growing up knowing how important body image and attractiveness is in terms of a well balanced personality. And how important it is to be judged as being more attractive than your peers. And that such competition can never start too early.

This may not technically or legally constitute child abuse but certainly in a moral context it would have to be so close as to not matter, although I think there’s a strong argument that it is simply the sexualisation of young girls.

In a 2006 study conducted by Anna Woolwich, entitled Childhood Beauty Pageant Contestants: Associations with adult disordered eating and mental health, it was reported that, ‘…childhood pageant participants scored higher on body dissatisfaction, interpersonal distrust and impulse dysregulation than non-participants…’ It was a small sampling I would have thought from what I read but if you think through the whole process and the pressure and the mixed signals being sent to the young girls about how critical it is to be attractive and successful, I think any sampling would quite probably return similar results.

Personally, I find the whole process and industry abhorrent and disgusting. But I’ve no doubt there’ll be any number of mothers out there in Australia willing to become involved and am certain that within twelve months there’ll be something equally as odious and objectionable on our screens as the American television show, ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’.

As I’ve said on more than one occasion, you can never over-estimate people’s bad taste.

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To read Ian’s novel Who Your Mates Are please click on http://ianarkell.wordpress.com/

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