I have been pondering beauty pageants lately. A mom on Facebook asked if she should allow her daughter to participate in a beauty pageant. She had been in one as a child and loved it. But she wasn’t sure if it was really appropriate. It would also be a great expense. She received differing opinions on the subject. But it got me thinking.
As a little girl, I watched Miss America and Miss Universe on television. I loved to dress up in what I thought were glamorous clothes. I loved to put on my mother’s makeup and wear high heels. I would day-dream of walking down a runway in a formal gown. My sister and I would have contests and ask our family who they thought was prettier.
Although Miss America and Miss Universe are no longer a part of our lives the way they were a few years ago, the television show “Toddlers and Tiaras” demonstrates that these types of pageants are very much alive (if not so well) in our culture. So many people claim to hate the show, yet how many hundreds of thousands watch every week? According to Inside Edition, over 2,000,000 people watch each week.
What about television in general? I don’t have those numbers. But the number above amazes me. If you read their article, there are more amazing numbers about how much money some people spend on these pageants.
Why do we do this? What is so wonderful about it? Even those of us that don’t participate in beauty pageants often go to great lengths to look good. How many of you reading this blog have ever been on a diet? How many of you have been on more than one diet? What was your motivation? Was it to be healthy? Be honest. It was more likely that you wanted to look good.
What looks good? How do we know if something looks good or not? Our notions of human beauty have changed over the years and across cultures. But who determines what is “pretty?” In our day and in American culture, we watch a lot of television and look at a lot of magazines with pictures of TV and movie stars.
According to Nielsen, the Average American spends 20% of their day watching television. That’s 4.8 hours. If you figure that people spend 8 hours sleeping, that figures to 30% of our waking hours. Where am I going with these figures? And where do the X Games come in? Bear with me for a moment. If we are spending that much time looking at enhanced images on the television. Yes, enhanced, enhanced by makeup, lighting, and computers. These people do not look like this in real life. Not even the so-called Reality Television stars.
So we look at these people for a long time. We might begin to compare ourselves to them. You don’t? Okay, let’s say you don’t. Do you have children? Do they see you looking at these people for 4.8 hours a day, give or take some time? And how many hours a day do you spend actively engaged with your child? All right, I am not trying to make you feel guilty – I spend plenty of time not actively engaged with my child.
I am going to go out on a limb here, because I have nothing to support this hypothesis. But what do you suppose our children are learning from this? They are learning that the images on the screen capture their parents’ attention. How should our children capture our attention? By trying to look like the images on the screen. How can anyone look like that? Makeup? There isn’t enough to quite get there. Clothes? Maybe it will help a little. Lose weight? That might help too! Can some people’s distorted body image be traced to seeing what their parents thought was important and what captured their attention? Probably.
According to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, 8,000,000 Americans have an eating disorder. That is a very high number.
Our vision of beauty must change.
Here is where the X Games comes in. They started in 1995. Snowboarders, skateboarders, and the like were not recognized by more traditional athletes and the Olympics. So what are talented people to do? Put together their own event with their own medals and get a television network to cover it. In 1995, this event first aired on ESPN for “alternative” athletes. It is now huge. Few people today would tell a snowboarder that they don’t participate in a real sport. Few people today would tell a bicyclist doing tricks in a 20 foot half-pipe that they are not a real athlete.
So what does this have to do with beauty pageants? Why can’t we demand a change in what we deem beautiful? By watching the shows that the television airs, we agree with the producers and program directors. So how about we turn off “Toddlers and Tiaras” and most of the programming out there. What if we host our own beauty pageants for our daughters and granddaughters and nieces and neighbors? We can celebrate people’s achievements that contribute to a healthy society. Did your child participate in a neighborhood clean up? Get her on the stage proclaiming that. That is beautiful! Did your child get the highest math score for the year? That is beautiful! Did your daughter volunteer at an animal shelter? That is beautiful!
Why limit it to our girls? How about the boys? Get them involved. Get all of the children you know up in front of a group of people and celebrate their achievements, not just their ability to put on makeup and stay skinny. Don’t wait for their school to do it. Show them how important they are by turning off the television for a few hours and planning a new kind of beauty pageant. Maybe the television people will catch on and put on a new kind of program.
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