So Ireland’s first Child Beauty Pageant went ahead in the end….. in a pub in Monaghan.  Not quite the glamorous venue I am sure the organisers had hoped for.. with all due respect to Monaghan pubs.  So now the question must be ‘should Ireland follow France and ban these pageants altogether?’
Personally I am fearful that if we do,  we will then sit back on our laurels in typical Irish fashion and congratulate ourselves on the fact that ‘we don’t hold with that kind of thing here’; allowing us to bathe in a false sense as to how we value our children and protect them from sexualisation and exploitation.
There are three problems I see with Child Beauty Pageants.. and no I have never been to one.  I am making my assumptions based on the reality programmes such as Toddlers and Tiaras and on the interview with participants and organisers on the Late Late Show on Friday night.
Firstly is the application of spray tan, false nails, hair pieces, false eyelashes etc on very small children.  To me this is borderline abuse.  I am not sure it is ever right to apply spray tan to a child under 12 years of age, regardless of the event.
Second is the issue (which I have only seen on the American reality shows about pageants) of pushing small children well beyond their physical limits.  Keeping them awake when they are clearly exhausted is bad enough but feeding them energy drinks is another issue altogether and another possible abuse.
But thirdly and most worrying is the sexualisation of young girls that is part and parcel of these competitions.  This is where the real problem lies and this was the issue Senator Jillian Van Turnout continually highlighted in her successful campaign to have hotels refuse to host last weekend’s competition here in Ireland.
But the sexualisation of children in the pageant world is just the cartoon, thin end of the wedge.  My children have never wanted to be involved in a beauty pageant.  They enjoy the reality shows because of the drama involved.  But they, like most young girls, have never harboured any ambitions to wear a tiara themselves. 
However these same young girls (now teenagers) are far more likely to be impacted by the constant but much more subtle message that is carried across all our media that a girl or woman’s worth is measured primarily by her appearance and the pinnacle of attractiveness is to be sexually attractive.
We seem to be fast asleep to this much more damaging aspect of modern life certainly her in the so called civilised Western World.  The sexualisation of our children is taking place in our own living rooms, every day of the year.  It is a message carried in music videos, in movies and in advertising.  In fact it is increasingly subtly hidden in mainstream news media too. 
Don’t believe me?  Have a look at this – the trailer for a very disturbing documentary called Miss Representation.  No matter what a woman’s achievements, her worth will still be all about how she looks.  And it’s not just our girls that are getting this message; our boys are picking up on this baloney too.
Dustin Hoffman spoke about this recently when he talked about how disappointed he was when he was ‘made over’ into a woman for the movie Tootsie.  He’d assumed that he would be a reasonably attractive woman but instead he was… well Tootsie.  He suddenly realised how many potentially interesting women he may have ignored because he judged them on their appearance. He said he had been brainwashed into thinking only attractive women are worth his time.   You can look at what he said here.
Last week I sat dumbfounded as I watched the first episode of Maia Dunphy’s new documentary series ‘What WomenWant’.  In this first programme Maia examined the world of ‘surgical enhancement’ and women’s obsession with ‘fighting’ ageing.  There was something vaguely sinister about perfectly attractive women in their 20s and 30s being told by very… well frankly odd looking men….  that they (the women) were in need of surgical enhancement to their faces. 
We seem to have already produced a generation of women who are insecure and who struggle constantly with trying to emulate the impossible concept of womanhood that they have been fed over the recent decades. 

So by all means I would support a ban on Child Beauty Pageants but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that that one step is going to make any difference to the majority of our children who are being sexualised right under our noses.  The second generation young women are well on the way to being completely brainwashed.. and it’s taking place in your home, every day of the year.  What are we going to do about that?

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Writing and Talking.... on the radio, on the telly and in the papers. Debut book out in Spring 2022


  1. Barbara …

    I watched Maia Dunphy's show too and would LOVE to see a TV show of all the people they interviewd and asked (when looking for females to participate in the show) who were blissfully happy with the way they look and how much they enjoy the aging process.

    I have always surrounded myself with strong women. Big women, small women, short, fat, thin, old and young women. Women of different skin colours and religious backgrounds. Women who look and feel fabulous because they are – not because someone tells them to feel that way. SMART and even silly women.

    Because of this 'in a show me your friends and I'll tell you who you are kinda way' my three young lassies are already showing ferocious signs of becoming strong, smart and beautiful from the inside out – and none of them are of my blood …. it is monkey see, monkey do.

    I don't think this pageantry is borderline child abuse … I think it is straight up child abuse. All we can do is educate the young ladies in our lives. We can educate them to the fact that 'Strong' is the new beautiful and hope that they will someday be the role models we are trying to be for them.

    I'd vote to ban it the pageants too but Mums that want their kids involved in crap like that will always find a way to get them involved ….

    I don't say it enough but I do love your kitchen table.


  2. The flagrant sexualisation of girls is the greatest disservice we can allow be perpetrated on them by society. It dis-empowers them and impinges a process onto them whereby they assume that the only way to advance themselves in this world is to use how they look.We are driving our young women into the hands of Men who will objectify them and treat them as second class citizens.It is important now in 2013 that Men stand firm and allow women know that there is room for everyone, that communicating and doing is more important than preening and pouting.

  3. Its scary how many friends I know who said if they had the money what they would get done. I always fight back saying its not what matters though but they say, why have a problem if it makes you happy. Then when I try to press them that it is shallow then to then feel good cos you look good, they get all uppity. Surely having some principles about these things is what we should be encouraging, the relaxed attitude to cosmetic surgery is very worrying.

  4. Hi Barbra,

    We are transition year students in Mount Mercy College and as part of our transition year programme we are part in the Young Social Innovators competition. Our project is called ‘Don’t Let The Wrecking Ball Wreck You’ and as part of this we are researching the area of child beauty pageants in Ireland.

    Having done extensive research on the topic of beauty pageants we would like to introduce a law which would ban all child beauty pageants in Ireland. We feel this law should be put in place because of the implications they can have on young children.

    We believe that beauty pageants have a poor effect on children because it sexualises them at a very young age and makes children think that beauty and appearance is all that matters in life. We feel that this is a terrible mind-set for children to have and this effect how the mature as they grow.

    In order to make a change in this area and take steps towards introducing a law that would ban all beauty pageants in Cork we need the support of you. We have set up a petition and feel that your signature would benefit our project by heightening the publicity and hopefully lead to the banning of child beauty pageants in Cork and Ireland. We would be very interested in hearing your opinions on this matter and would be grateful if you could respond to us as soon as possible. You can contact us at the following email address

    Our petition is on the website, here is the link to sign our petition.

    Yours sincerely,
    Transition Year Students, W3

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