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Position Paper: Are Beauty Pageants Exploitive?

Growing up, the famous saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” was promoted and preached by parents of children who suffered from insecurities about the way they looked. In a world of Kim Kardashians and shows like Toddlers and Tiaras dominating the media, the ideal beauty standards have emerged and changed exponentially since the first marketed concept of beauty was shown. Our society places an emphasis on the shape of your body and the length of your lashes to portray unrecognizable versions of ourselves. Beauty pageants are just another source of unachievable body ideals that set the standards for the way women are to look and act. While some argue that Beauty Pageants are harmless to the development of individuals, stating that they provide opportunities and provide self confidence for participants, they provide a variety of negative effects. Beauty pageants, specifically those of child directed pageants, are exploitive in ways that damage psychological wellbeing in the state of mental health and body image, teach negative manners, and sexualize children.

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Firstly, beauty pageants negatively impact the psychological wellbeing and health of individuals in terms of discontent of their body and increasing the likelihood of developing severe mental health. According to Wonderlich, L., Ackard, M., & Henderson, B (2005), whose research studied the correlation between childhood beauty pageant and negative adult psychological conditions, those who participated in childhood beauty pageants scored significantly higher on tests indicating body dissatisfaction, interpersonal distrust, and impulse dysregulation and reported having greater feelings of ineffectiveness than those who didn’t. This demonstrates the negative wellbeing that women are put under when involved in competitions that involve “professionals” to judge and criticize the appearance and manner of others. It was concluded that the exposure to feminine beauty ideals in mass media has been found to be associated with negative effects of growth of eating disorders and perfectionism (Wonderlich, L., Ackard, M., & Henderson, B., 2005). The body dissatisfaction mentality and a strive for perfection can be a motivating factor in the existence bulimia in which participants engage in to lose weight. This gives evidence that former participants grew up and developed an association of thinness with beauty. Eating disorders, such as Bulimia and Anorexia, contribute to a number of long term health problems, such as alterations in body fat distribution and increased cardiovascular mortality (French, S., & Jeffery, R., 1994). In addition, not only can these eating disorders contribute to the existence of mental health, but the lack of self esteem experienced by beauty queens who feel dissatisfied with the way they look and feel might fall into depression. The idea that they are unable to live up to beauty standards and feel beautiful which is proven by winning can contribute to their long term emotional and mental state. If the pageant participates do not win, they automatically believe that they are not living up the society’s beauty standards which results to purging, and constraining their food intake. There could be multiple factors within the industry that may contribute to the development of these disorders, such as our current culture image, stress, poor self-image, parental pressures and more. Therefore, the participation in beauty pageants influences girls’ perspective on vanity, causing them to believe that physical attraction gains personal success. This results females to undertake eating disorders to lower body weight which contributes to the existence of mental health concerns such as depression and a lack of self esteem.

Secondly, beauty pageants promote the justification of negative degrading manners and attitudes of individuals. As stated by Rebecca Shaiber, Laura Johnsen and Glenn Geher (2017) pageant elicit intrasexual competitive attitudes and behaviours which are used to gain and possess resources like you would in a mating context. This places emphasis on how women are raised to show hatred and jealousy towards fellow participators, and degradation they have towards others appearances in order to self promote them to gain the affection of the crowd and the crown. These environments promote the development of negative behaviours such as manipulations and the overconfident/shallow personalities for this purpose of gratifying themselves and showing superiority to their competitors. The environment of beauty pageants instills the idea that within the act of competition attention “nobody is their friend”. The authors purpose that these competitors are creating traits that men find attractive, examples include: The appearance of virginity and purity, intelligence and creativity (Shaiber, L., Johnsen, L., & Geher, G., 2017). Women constantly compare themselves and use hateful language such as “slut” and “whore” to contradict these ideal traits just to boost their insecure selves. Beauty Pageants are promoting jealousy, and disrespect to what should be positive sportsmanship and support. Women are taught to show proper etiquette when controversially, they are taught to use defence mechanisms of projection and sublimation as well as denial to deal with losing through socially acceptable ways. Therefore pageants teach women that they must drag one another in the dirt in order to feel better about themselves.

Furthermore, Pageants sexualize children. Reported by Christine Tamer, government officials in Thailand have been the removal of the swim suit categories as it can stir sexual fantasies or possibility create the temptation to engage with child prostitution (2011). Through extensive makeup, elaborate outfits, fake hair and more, children are coached to look and act older. Although noted above that swimsuit categories are being eliminated from competitions such as these in Thailand, participants are being taught about sexualisation and how to dress the part of a “beautiful person” before they even know what it is. Categories like prettiest eyes and best outfit are common classes that children can win are teaching kids encouraging young girls to parade around in proactive clothing and strive to have “Barbie like” sexuality as a way to attract the attention and pleasure of others such as judges. Participants are coached by parents and trained professionals to demonstrate to flaunt and flirt to judges while on stage through actions of winking or removing costume pieces during talent portions. During some talent portions, children display proactive dances, which gain them points. Children dress skimpy and wear caked makeup for the purpose for old men to give them points on beauty even though children don’t look like that or should.

While many disagree to the objective of beauty pageants, parents of child participants would argue that while standard pageants may lead to these effects; those of “Natural pageants” do not. Natural pageants regulate makeup usage, sexuality and competition for children and young women which provide a great experience for child (Nussbaum, K., 2011). The article features an interview with Beatriz Gill, a child beauty pageant director and former child beauty queen, who is a supporter of these pageants in which she credits to helping her become confident and self-assured (Nussbaum, K., 2011). Supporters of these natural pageants would contend that these pageants would increase confidence of their child’s natural beauty, unlike standard pageants where children are dolled up in makeup, fake teeth, hair extension and fake tans, these pageants are approved by many parents as they don’t sexualize the child. Children who participate don’t need to act as a character, and dress extravagant but instead poise themselves to judges as their true internal and external selves.

Parents in support of pageants choose to believe that beauty pageants should be treated as sport are to society in terms of it teaching discipline and opportunities that can come as a result of them. Like sport, pageant participants train like an athlete, honour their skills, and work with professional coaches (Dow, J., 2003). As well as its gives women visibility and opportunities for scholarships and money like a sport would do for a man (Dow, J., 2003). It’s argued that they have the same means and goals of training and appreciation. Like athletes of professional sports they have dedication, discipline and experience competition, which would qualify it as a sport. Similarly how a parent might enrol a child in little leagues soccer, a parent might put their child in a beauty pageant that contain the same criteria, expect one faces criticism. Physical and psychological issues are possible consequences in both the pageant and sport industry. As a result of the existence of natural beauty pageants where minimal makeup is displayed and its qualifications of it as a sport, many argue that beauty pageants are beneficial and less damaging than as it is perceived.

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Though justifications that beauty pageants are a type of sport and the presence of natural pageants society are valid, ones appearance shouldn’t ever the basis of one’s success and worth in society. External image shouldn’t be used to judge on what makes some beautiful and what makes someone not. To lose a pageant is to believe you’re insignificant, unattractive and not worthy; outcomes no one should experience or feel. Beauty pageants promote the usage of judging and comparison of people in society. They create psychological and physical health problem such as eating disorders and poor self esteem, encourage degrading behaviours and manners towards one another and sexualize women for the sake of “creative” and evaluation means. One can be physically beautiful but in no way is that directly translated to the beauty of one’s soul. Everyone is beautiful and one shouldn’t have an authority to determine so.


  • Dow, B. J. (2003). Feminism, Miss America, and Media Mythology. Rhetoric & Public Affairs 6(1), 127-149. Michigan State University Press. Retrieved from
  • French, S. A., & Jeffery, R. W. (1994). Consequences of dieting to lose weight: Effects on physical and mental health. Health Psychology, 13(3), 195-212.
  • Nussbaum, K. (2011). Children and beauty pageants. Retrieved from
  • Shaiber, R. L., Johnsen, L. L., & Geher, G. (2017). Intrasexual Competition Among Beauty Pageant Contestants. In Fisher, Maryanne L (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Women and Competition (pp. 617-636). New York, NY, US: Oxford University Press.
  • Tamer, C. (2011). Toddlers, tiaras, and pedophilia: The borderline child pornography embraced by the American public. Texas Review of Entertainment and Sports Law, 13(1), 85-102.
  • Wonderlich, A. L., Ackard, D. M., & Henderson, J. B. (2005). Childhood beauty pageant contestants: Associations with adult disordered eating and mental health. Eating Disorders, 13(3), 291-301. doi:10.1080/10640260590932896


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