It is not uncommon for parents, especially those of young athletes, to exhibit what is known as benign "achievement by proxy," in which they experience pride and joy through their child's achievements but still recognize a child's limitations, says Cartwright, who has worked extensively with young athletes and dancers as a dietician.
"Achievement by proxy distortion," however, occurs when parents struggle to differentiate between their own need and their child's needs, and in order to achieve what they perceive as success, they may engage in risky behaviors, objectification or even abuse and exploitation of a child, elements of which Cartwright said she witnessed at the glitz pageants she attended.
"I think it's fun if they want to play dress up for a little while, but to insist on making that a career or that they're going to be a model or a Hollywood star, the chances are very slim," she said in an interview. "Parents have to know their child's limitations and not pres them beyond that because later on that knocks their self esteem."
Cartwright said she talked with pageant parents who made risky financial investments to support their child's participation, spending above and beyond the amount of the contest's top prize. She also witnessed parents putting high pressure on their young daughters to look "flawless" and win at all costs, pushing them to adopt an unnatural and adult-like physical appearance and chastising them for poor performance, lack of enthusiasm or a flawed appearance.
"Everything was based on what these kids look like and the way that these children were displayed or dressed," Cartwright said. "They were fully made up; they looked like adult women, pint-size. They were judged on personality, but none spoke a word."
The emphasis on physical
|Contact: Martina Cartwright|
University of Arizona