Three New Zealand cities are being considered as the location for an American-style beauty contest for dolled-up children next year.
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Undeterred by protests against a pageant in Melbourne last month – and a tabloid television turf war that erupted over six-year-old United States star Eden Wood, who later pulled out – organisers Universal Royalty plan to bring the show to New Zealand for the first time next June
Texas-based pageant owner Annette Hill said details were still being finalised but organisers were considering Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland.
About 80 contestants from 11 months old to 40 years paid A$295 (NZ$366) to enter the Melbourne contest in various categories, but the pageant was overshadowed by the withdrawal of Eden after concerns for her safety. Eden was best known for starring in the reality show Toddlers and Tiaras.
Ms Hill, who has been in the business for 25 years, is passionate about the shows and rejects criticism that they turn children into objects.
"I think that's absolutely absurd. If you're looking at a kid in that type of way then something is wrong with you. What we saw was kids playing dress-up for a day – you should have seen the smiles. It was wonderful to see kids happy."
She said the New Zealand shows would be similar to the pageant event in Melbourne, which was toned down from United States pageants, where fake teeth and spray-tanned toddlers were common.
However, protests are already planned for next year's event.
Beauty pageant opponents Pull the Pin will hold rallies next year, New Zealand co-ordinator Rachel Hansen said. "They are not part of New Zealand culture."
Wellington mother Fiona Arbuckle said the piled-up curls, heavy makeup and adult clothes made the children look like Barbie dolls.
"It makes me feel uncomfortable seeing children like that."
The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists also said last week that beauty pageants were harmful to children's mental health.
Dr Nick Kowalenko said in a statement: "Direct participation and competition for a beauty prize where infants and girls are objectified and judged against sexualised ideals can have significant mental health and developmental consequences that impact detrimentally on identity, self-esteem, and body perception.
"It's giving little girls a message at such a young age that their value is in their physical looks and ... in their sexuality.
"With the horrific rising rate of eating disorders and depression in New Zealand, it's the last thing we want to be encouraging girls [to do]."
But Ms Hill argued that being able to get up on stage in front of people was confidence-building and, in the US, a well-known path to public life.
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