It’s no secret that childhood beauty pageants are pretty controversial. From their link to devastating tragedies like the murder of JonBenet Ramsey to quintessentially “trash television” shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, pageants have given rise to serious questions regarding child exploitation — and the sometimes thin line between exploitation and harmless entertainment.

One can certainly argue that child beauty pageantry is nothing more than a form of playing dress-up and having a good time. Yet, there does seem to be a difference between the good old-fashioned fun of putting on pearls, lipstick, and a sparkly dress and being made to dress like a “sexy” Las Vegas showgirl. Which begs the question: what is the actual truth behind the psychology of childhood beauty pageants, and how do they ultimately impact the development of young girls?

Read on to find out what some experts, some parents, and some former contestants think about the whole issue.

That controversial TV series

childhood beauty pageant

When the television series Toddlers and Tiaras premiered, it almost immediately became a major point of contention. The program’s detractors accused its adult participants of a range of highly questionable behavior.

Some of the show’s most notable controversies included an instance when a 4-year-old, tasked with impersonating singer Dolly Parton, was padded with fake breasts and an ample rear end. Another little girl was dressed like Julia Roberts’ famous prostitute character in a Pretty Woman-themed performance. Honey Boo Boo’s mother Mama June Shannon was criticized for giving her daughter what became known as “pageant crack” — a combination of Mountain Dew and Red Bull. And one little girl “smoked” on stage during a number in which she was supposed to be a leather-clad Sandy in Grease — even though the “cigarette” in question was actually candy.

Think that sounds bad? Just wait…

Do pageants sexualize children?

Little girl putting on makeup

According to some experts, many pageant performances do, in fact, have disturbingly sexual undertones.

Of course, many little girls have loved Barbies and beautiful dolls, in general — and Shirley Temple started tap-dancing across stages long ago. All that’s nothing new. But some argue that the concepts that the pageant circuit promotes are considerably less innocent.

Harvard sociologist Dr. Hilary Friedman gave an interview to the Deseret News in 2012, and, on the matter, said, “On (these) reality shows … people start to think that’s OK, like an everyday occurrence … you can go out as a 6-year-old and wear a ton of makeup and have a bare midriff. So many see these girls on TV, and as they are watching that and when they see it become suggestive, it seems OK.”

Again, that’s a matter of opinion. But some things — like a small child wearing a gold cone-tipped bra — really do seem to be a bit much.

Some kids get Botox and other plastic surgery

LIttle girl in lipgloss

Why would a child want to erase their “wrinkles?” It’s a good question, and one that was answered by pageant mom Kerry Campbell in 2011, after she admitted to injecting her then-8-year-old daughter Britney with Botox.

According to ABC News, Campbell claimed that Britney herself had asked for the injections. In a televised interview with Good Morning America (via The Young Turks), young Britney stated, “I just, like, don’t think wrinkles are nice on little girls.”

As ABC News described, the elder Campbell said, “They [the other pageant moms] were just telling me about the lines on her face, and how, you know, a lot of the moms are giving their kids Botox, and it’s pretty much, like, a thing.” She went on, “I’m not the only one that does it. A lot of moms do it.”

That doesn’t make us feel any better…

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