She said she also worries that the competitions sexualize young girls by encouraging them to look like grown-ups. She recalled in particular one young contestant, wearing a Playboy bunny costume, being carried onto the stage by her father, dressed as Hugh Hefner.
Cartwright is additionally concerned about the physical health of young pageant participants.
At the pageants she observed, where contestants ranged in age from 4 months to 15 years, she said tears and temper tantrums were common, with many parents denying their children naps or breaks during grueling pageant schedules for fear that sleeping might dishevel the child's appearance. She also saw several parents giving their children caffeinated beverages and Pixy Stix candy, often referred to as "pageant crack," to keep their energy levels high, with one mother declaring, "We've gone through two bags of crack and two cans of energy drink so she can stay up for crowning."
"It's concerning because when you raise toddlers, they have to be put on a schedule of some sort, with regular meals and regular naps," Cartwright said. "With the 'pageant crack' and caffeinated beverages, they're feeding them pure sugar to keep them awake. The smell in the hallways was so sweet it was like being in a carnival."
Although Cartwright doesn't advocate an outright ban on child pageants, she said she thinks it's important for people to understand the motivation for some parents to enter their children in the competitions.
"If we can understand why the parents are doing what they're doing, then we can start addressing the problem," she said. "And I think if the public understands why the parents are doing that then they won't pay as much attention to these pageants."
She also emphasized the importance of teaching young children that self-esteem is not
|Contact: Martina Cartwright|
University of Arizona