Childhood Studies Child Beauty Pageants
by
Hilary Levey Friedman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0132

Introduction

Child beauty pageants are one of the most controversial and vilified of all children’s activities. While adult and teen beauty pageants are often looked at disdainfully, child beauty pageants produce an even stronger negative response. Many critics liken them to child abuse. Opponents of child beauty pageants say they prematurely sexualize young girls and place too much focus on beauty and appearance at an early age. Proponents say they build confidence and are a family-friendly activity. What is a child beauty pageant? A child beauty pageant is an event created to reward children for their appearance and personality. Every competition has the beauty competition: from that, child pageants can take a variety of shapes. Most have a photogenic component, some have an interview, and others have a talent competition. One of the most unique parts of a child beauty pageant is the modeling. Instead of a typical runway walk, child pageant modeling is a set routine, choreographed with facial expressions and spins. At many pageants a “grand supreme” title is decided based on the highest score for the entire event or for an age group, such as zero to six. An age division winner typically receives a trophy, crown, and age-appropriate prize. Overall winners, or “supremes,” usually receive cash or a savings bond. For the purposes of this article the term “child beauty pageants” only refer to those events that resemble this description. While some teens and (rarely) adults take part in these pageants, most of the participants are under age eight. Traditional teen pageants, such as America’s Junior Miss, are not included in this discussion. While child beauty pageants have existed in the United States for decades, they were thrust into the media spotlight after the 1996 death of JonBenét Ramsey. Since then, pop-culture attention has intensified as documentaries and television series have focused on the American subculture of child beauty pageants. Conducive to visual media, several child beauty queens have become media starlets even amidst the maelstrom of parental criticism. Much of the negative press is based more on common sense and opinion rather than on scholarship. Little academic research has been conducted on the impacts of child beauty pageants on children. Popular writers and television producers have filled the void; they sometimes produce insightful work, but other times the final product is biased or unrepresentative, especially among self-published work.

General Overviews

We obviously do not have any textbooks or academic journals focused on child beauty pageants (or even on beauty pageants, for that matter). Several edited volumes on beauty pageants exist, but they do not discuss child beauty pageants. Some other general books about pageantry mention child beauty pageants, such as Savage 1998 and Lovegrove 2002; Merino 2010 has two chapters on child beauty pageants. The story is similar for Stevens 2010. The Stevens volume, along with Scaglia 2010, are two examples of why the reader must be wary when it comes to studying child beauty pageants. Both of these books were compiled from various Wikipedia entries and self-published. The best of these overviews that focuses on child beauty pageants is Susan Anderson’s High Glitz (Anderson 2009). Again, though, there is a caveat. The book is almost entirely pictures of child beauty pageant contestants and contains very little text on child beauty pageants.

  • Anderson, Susan. High Glitz: The Extravagant World of Child Beauty Pageants. Brooklyn, NY: powerHouse, 2009.

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    Anderson’s beautiful and fascinating photos are the meat of this gorgeous but expensive (and now out of print), coffee-table book. Anderson has an essay, and two cultural commentators contribute a short foreword and introduction. But students of child beauty pageants will find the glossary of child beauty pageant terms at the end of the book most helpful—and they are accurate.

  • Lovegrove, Keith. Pageant: The Beauty Contest. New York: TeNeues, 2002.

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    Like Anderson 2009, this is a high-quality coffee-table book filled with photos and minimal commentary (though Lovegrove presents an interesting history of beauty pageants at the beginning of the book); child pageants are a small part of his story, but there are photos and some discussion on pp. 66–69.

  • Merino, Noel, ed. At Issue: Beauty Pageants. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven, 2010.

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    This short collection of sixteen articles on beauty pageants collects some of the best writing on beauty pageants for students. Chapters 14 and 15 focus on child beauty pageants (chapter 16 will be of interest to those most interested in teen pageants).

  • Savage, Candace. Beauty Queens: A Playful History. New York: Abbeville, 1998.

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    In the same vein as Lovegrove 2002 but contains more commentary, history, and analysis (though it is still dominated by pictures). Chapter 2, “Heavy the Head That Wears the Crown,” contains the most pictures and discussion of child pageants.

  • Scaglia, Beatriz, ed. The Beauty of Child Pageants. Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, 2010.

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    Scaglia compiled various Wikipedia entries for this short, self-published book that covers and positive and negative qualities of child beauty pageants. However, the information contained here is not necessarily correct.

  • Stevens, Dakota. An Unauthorized Guide to Beauty Pageants. Charleston, SC: BiblioBazaar, 2010.

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    Similar to Scaglia 2010, this is compiled from Wikipedia entries: pp. 87–96 focus on child beauty pageants.

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