Too young to strut their stuff on the catwalk?

Sunday Star Times 20 Jan 2013
Across the nation, kids are strutting their stuff. Toddlers twirl, 5-year-old boys pump their biceps like skinny mini-Arnies and pubescent 11-year-olds strike hand-on-hip model poses. From Timaru’s Caroline Bay, to Oakura Bay in Taranaki, to Northland’s Glinks Gully, January is beach carnival season, and alongside the sausage sizzles, sandcastle competitions and treasure hunts, there’s almost always a beauty contest. But is it harmless fun to anoint 10-year-olds as Miss Glinks Gully or Junior Mr Muscles Opunake? Or are we on the slippery slope that ends in the creepy swamp of American-style under-age pageants where mentally unstable stage moms dress their toddlers like drag queens and sit in the audience mouthing the words of their songs?

…..Auckland child psychologist Rebecca Daly-Peoples doesn’t see beach pageants as the end of civilisation. All the same, they’re another facet of the pressures placed on young people, especially women, to see themselves as sexual objects, and to overrate physical appearance. “Anything that sexualises children is not good,” says Daly-Peoples. “Kids are getting bombarded enough, particularly by music videos.” The daft parts of the carnivals – cute toddlers having a twirl, or 8-year-old boys striking a body-builder pose – strike Daly-Peoples as innocuous (“Even back in the 1950s you’d have beautiful-baby competitions”) but when the competitors are pubertal girls of 10 or 11 being judged for their physical beauty, she’s uncomfortable. “There are enough body-image issues out there already, without sanctioning it in the community.” It’s one thing for a young girl to want to dress up and totter around home in her mum’s high heels, says Daly-Peoples, but it’s quite another to put that child up on a stage to be judged. Obviously, taking part in a lighthearted seaside beauty contest won’t mean you’re doomed to get an eating disorder, but “everyone’s affected by the images we’re bombarded with”, and the longer we can protect our kids from that, the better, says Daly-Peoples.