|I don’t even know what it is to feel attractive without make-up on my face. Until recently, whenever I saw my mother and I wasn’t wearing make-up of some sort she would literally pull a tube of lipstick out of her purse and say, “You need make-up.” Perhaps it’s because I have worn make-up on my face since the age of four. This was when I competed in my first beauty pageant. When children enter beauty pageants at too young of an age, they can develop poor self-image, low self-esteem and even eating disorders.
Beauty pageants in general may cause these sorts of issues. However they are especially prevalent in children who begin to compete at an age when they are not emotionally ready to handle all of the things that come with the territory. A beauty pageant is very competitive and often sparks jealousy among the other contestants. An older contestant may realize that this jealousy is simply sparked out of their opponents’ desire to win. A four-year-old probably just thinks the other kids don’t like her. This may make this child start to not like themselves. This is also true if a child doesn’t win a pageant. Children are taught it’s important to do your best. What if you give your best and you lose? Does this mean that you are just not good enough? What if pageant after pageant you compete and give one hundred percent of yourself but still turn out to be the loser? How heavily this weighs on a young girls mind. The thoughts of knowing that you are being judged on every little thing you do and most importantly the way you look can cross over into your everyday life. It’s hard for someone with a mind that is still developing to separate the stage from the real world. It is a strange thing to always be judging or to always feel as though others are judging you. The age groups for pageants can be a bit unfair as well. For example, in my first beauty pageant I was four years old. The age range was four to nine year olds. Some nine year olds have already begun to develop and as you can imagine look quite different from a four year old with baby fat. I didn’t win that year. An older girl won. This made me want to be that other girl. It made me always want to be someone else instead of liking myself the way I was. Everything became a contest, one where I would constantly compare myself to others and see how I measured up.
Low self-esteem is quite common in girls of any age. Putting too much emphasis on appearance rather than inner beauty sends the wrong message to a youthful mind. It is true that many pageants have a talent portion as well as a question and answer portion. However, in the younger ages, the talent portion is often a joke because most kids at a very young age simply are too young to have any real talent, and the question sessions are the same. Any answers given will simply be what a parent has coached the child to say. The reality is in most of these pageants looks are it. This sad fact can make a person become totally obsessed with the way she looks. In order to combat low self-esteem, one might look down upon others that are less attractive to make themselves feel better. As we get older, we are taught not to judge a book by its cover, but when we have learned otherwise at such a young age it’s harder to accept this. In these pageants you naturally scope out the competition. It’s no surprise that our childhood experiences affect our adult life. However it is not so commonly recognized how large of an impact things can have and for how long.
For as long as I can remember, I have thought negatively about fat people. I have always taken pride in being thin and have always been conscious of what I eat. I was so conscious that starting at the age of sixteen I began to suffer from anorexia nervosa. This continued on and off until recently. Struggling with guilt anytime I ate anything that wasn’t salad made it difficult to function on a day-to-day basis. The sad thing is that people actually admired what I was doing. My heavier friends would ask me for “tips” on how to stay thin. This only encouraged my neurotic behavior. Some might argue that this is a genetic disease or a result of a chemical imbalance, but none of my family members have ever had this problem. No one in my family has ever been surrounded by beauty pageants and the desire to be thin and attractive the way that was.
In these pageants, there is always one girl who is a little heavier than the rest. This is the girl who everyone makes fun of and no one ever wants to be. A fat girl never wins a pageant. Although regular kids may experience this same sort of issue in school, it’s magnified times ten in these pageants. Parents can even be heard criticizing other girls who are not as slender. This competition happens in the real world too. A thin person with the same skill set will often get a job over a heavier candidate. This is why it’s so easy to feel so much pressure to be thin. Competition does exist off the stage. Whether it is competing for a job, or the attention of a special someone, looks matter. There is even the competition a girl can feel with herself. I was in competition with myself to be thinner the next day than I was at that moment.
Being in beauty pageants so young also caused me to get a lot of unexpected and unwanted attention from boys at a much younger age than I would have liked. Since I always wore so much make up and dressed up so much at the age of thirteen I looked sixteen and attracted high school boys. Of course I liked the attention, but psychologically I wasn’t ready to handle such adult situations. All of this was directly linked to my beauty pageant mentality. I competed in several beauty pageants, attended modeling school at age fourteen and even did some very low level modeling. Being in this type of environment before I was ready put pressures on me that I was not prepared to handle. To me being thinner meant being better. Being prettier meant being better.
One day, about six months ago, when my mother pulled her usual routine about me “needing make-up” I really let her have it. I explained to her that every time I saw her the only thing she commented on was my appearance. I told to her that so much focus on the way I looked was bad for my self-esteem and that she really should be more concerned with how I am doing in work, school and life as opposed to how I look. She got very quiet, then she tried to make an excuse, “Well, it’s just that you are so beautiful, I just want you to live up to your full potential.” Then there was silence and a change of topic. After that, she never commented on my appearance again. We now have much deeper more meaningful conversations. It has taken a long time for both of us to learn that being beautiful isn’t only about wearing make-up, nice clothes or how thin you are. It is about so much more than that. I just think it takes us beauty pageant girls a bit longer to realize it.