American-style child beauty pageants featuring young girls in heavy make-up, glitzy gowns and big hair styles are coming to New Zealand.
An organisation called Universal Royalty Beauty Pageants, based in Austin, Texas, confirmed that it was planning to hold pageants in several New Zealand cities for young Kiwi girls.
The pageants are renowned for young girls being spray-tanned and made to look much older than their years in a bid to win huge cash prizes.
The industry is synonymous with the unsolved murder of JonBenet Ramsey at her home in 1996. The case attracted worldwide media interest which often focused on JonBenet's participation in child beauty pageants.
This week Universal Royalty owner Annette Hill told the Sunday Star-Times details were still being worked out for the New Zealand pageants and she could not say when they would be held or where, other than to confirm there would be events in several cities.
However, Hill – notoriously media shy – is likely to be the subject of a public backlash should she bring her shows here.
At the end of next month, Universal Royalty will hold its first pageant in Australia, where it is has been the target of protest rallies in each state capital. Parents, child psychiatrists and other concerned people say the pageants highly sexualise the girls and are detrimental to their mental health.
More than 100 children are entered to compete in the Melbourne pageant. It will be attended by six-year-old Eden Wood, dubbed "the prettiest girl in America", who has featured in a US reality show called Toddlers & Tiaras.
There have been reports Wood's agent is charging up to $20,000 for an interview in Australia and her mother has also been reported as saying she and her daughter have received death threats over the impending visit.
Eden will have a bodyguard while in Australia and a new, secret pageant venue is being arranged after protest groups successfully persuaded the owners of the first venue to cancel arrangements.
A group called Pull The Pin, started by Melbourne woman Catherine Manning, is behind the Australian protest action and the group has recently formed a New Zealand branch.
Its Facebook page went live this week.
NZ Pull the Pin spokesperson Rachel Hansen, an educator who works with teenage girls, said the organisation was founded on the belief that girls were already under so much pressure regarding their bodies. "We don't support any kind of beauty competition, be it glitzy or natural, when these girls are not old enough to make an informed decision about what they're doing.
"I am very concerned about little girls being judged on their beauty because of the messages it sends when they are asked to parade around. In my job girls are telling me they are under immense pressure from the media about what they should look like.
"It starts very young and many feel they are not sexy enough, not skinny enough and not hot enough.
"We just think that these pageants should not be part of a Kiwi kid's upbringing."
Hansen is hopeful New Zealand's small population will make the Kiwi series uneconomic for Universal Royalty.
Entry fees can cost hundreds of dollars, depending on how many categories are entered. Meanwhile, another pageant group has also announced plans to bring its shows to New Zealand.
Australian Kids Pageants says it organises "natural" events where any artificial enhancements are banned and contestants are not judged on physical beauty.
The company says its "Little Miss Sparkle" and "Little Sir Dazzle" events will be held in New Zealand next year.
- Sunday Star Times