Child pageants 'bad for mental health'

Last updated 05:00 26/05/2011
CHILD STAR: America's top child beauty pageant star Eden Wood as seen on her Facebook page.
CHILD STAR: America's top child beauty pageant star Eden Wood as seen on her Facebook page.

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Australian and New Zealand psychiatrists have backed calls for child beauty pageants to be banned, saying they encourage the sexualisation of children and can cause developmental harm.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists says American-style pageants, like the one slated for July in Melbourne, promote an adult's perception of "beauty".

When asked if they backed a ban of the competitions, chair of the college Phillip Brock told AAP: "Yes we do."

"We're giving these kids messages that how they appear, how they perform and standards about what they're to come up to is actually more important than what they're like inside," he said.

Dr Brock said photographs of American pageant poser, Eden Wood, did not depict an "actual five-year-old child".

"That is a photograph that can be interpreted as alluring and appealing to the sexual instincts of the observer, and if that observer is an adult then it's voyeuristic," he told AAP.

The sexualisation of children can pose developmental harm and there's not a single good thing that can come out of the "circus" of pageantry, he said.

"Direct participation and competition for a beauty prize conveys messages relating to the desirable self, social and personal value and shapes emotional and psychological development.

"Infants and girls are objectified and judged against sexualised ideals.

"The mental health and development consequences of this are significant and impact on identity, self-esteem and body perception."

Dr Brock said there's not enough statistical evidence, here or abroad, to suggest the long-term consequences of pageant participation.

But he suggested it could lead to anxiety, depression and body-concept disorders.

Earlier this week, politicians, social commentators and parents rallied on the steps of state parliament in Melbourne, calling for an end to child beauty pageants.

Children held signs reading "babies not Barbies" and "affection not perfection", while speakers labelled the contests abhorrent, with no place in Australian society.

Anger about child beauty pageants has heightened after the controversial US television show, Toddlers and Tiaras, aired in Australia.

July's Little Miss and Master Bayside Pageant claims to "build self esteem and inspire children to be the best they can be", according to the competition's website.

Pageant age groups begin at zero to three years and include modelling sections in formal, casual and active wear as well as talent and interview sections.

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- AAP

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