Beauty pageants have gotten a bad rap over the years as having a demoralizing effect on girls and women. But is this a completely fair assessment? Aren't there lessons that can be learned from the competition process itself? Will they all turn into drug-addicted waifs to make it on the cat walk? Let's take a look at some of the pros and cons.
The main sticking point with critics of pageants is that they push an unrealistic image of what's beautiful which can be true. Critics believe this causes any girl who doesn't win to believe she doesn't measure up. But losing doesn't mean the end of the world, especially if parents are encouraging. If a girl has the healthy attitude that she'll win some and lose some, this is a character building trait for coping in the real world.
As a teen, I had the opportunity to attend a local modeling school for a short time. It was gift from my mother after I had gone through a rough period including being treated for depression. I didn't go in with the expectation of being a model and it wasn't full of backstabbing girls as is the stereotype often portrayed. I didn't become a model, and I wasn't crushed emotionally. It was fun and a huge confidence booster that drew me out of my self-inflicted isolation shell. I'll admit though that this was a long time ago and I know the culture has changed. It seems girls are being bombarded with ideas of what physical perfection is at earlier ages than they ever have been, and some parents encourage this with dressing up even toddlers as sultry adults.
Pageants have one negative aspect in common with sports and the arts—parents who push unwilling kids into competition. It's one thing to encourage a kid to keep competing when they're just having a downer day, but it's terrible to use girls as ornaments or as a way for parents to live vicariously through their kids.
Balance is key. As I mentioned, if girls (and boys too—there are contests for them) parents and adult contestants go into pageantry with a healthy attitude with feet firmly planted on the ground, they can reap the rewards including increased self-esteem, healthy lifestyle habits and the importance of persistence in the face of adversity. They may even become an inspiration to others. Heather Whitestone didn't let her disability of deafness keep her from competing in the Miss America pageant. She won the crown in 1995 and has had a successful career as a public speaker, author and activist.
Pageant Center (pageantcenter.com) is an excellent resource for finding local and national events to compete in and has lots of articles on all aspects of pageantry. If you're still concerned about unhealthy beauty standards, consider a natural pageant. Dream Girls USA (dreamgirlsusapageant.com) has listings for natural beauty pageants. The rules for these types of contests my vary per pageant, but generally, makeup is limited to girls above a certain age (the Dream Girls site says 10) and the focus is on equal development of positive character traits and learning how to engage in friendly competition. Prizes can also be substantial at the state and national levels. As always, good luck and have fun.
Some reading you may find helpful available at Amazon.com is:
Think Like a Beauty Queen: Life Lessons from my 63 Days as a Pageant Contestant
Did I Really Say That?: The Complete Pageant Interview Guide