Princess by Proxy: When Child Beauty Pageants Aren’t About the Kids

As child reality TV star Honey Boo Boo continues to capture the attention of audiences with her boisterous personality and her own show about life on the child beauty pageant circuit, a new paper published today in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry takes a critical look at the very types of pageants in which she and thousands of other children compete in America every year.

The paper, authored by Martina M. Cartwright, a registered dietitian and adjunct professor in the University of Arizona’s department of nutritional sciences, suggests that high-glitz child pageants, largely popularized by the TLC hit reality show “Toddlers and Tiaras” and its spin-off “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” often have little to do with the children and much more to do with satisfying the needs of their parents. It further suggests that participation in such pageants can actually be harmful to children’s health and self-esteem.

Cartwright, who attended two live tapings of “Toddlers and Tiaras” as part of her research, asserts that some pageant parents exhibit what she calls “princess by proxy,” a unique form of “achievement by proxy distortion” in which adults are driven primarily by the social or financial gains earned by their child’s accomplishments, regardless of risk involved for the child.

Cartwright focused specifically on the $5 billion glitz pageant industry, which was first made known to many in 1995, following the death of 5-year-old beauty queen Jon-Benet Ramsey.

In glitz pageants, young contestants wear heavy makeup and ornate costumes, with price tags sometimes topping $1,500. Along with entry fees, photos and other common pageant expenses – like wigs, fake tans and artificial teeth known as flippers – the average total cost of participating in a single glitz competition, according to Cartwright’s research, runs about $3,000 to $5,000.

Prizes at stake might include cash awards, crowns, trips, puppies or even movie “bit parts.” The potential for fame and fortune, Cartwright says, may contribute to “achievement by proxy distortion” in parents.

It is not uncommon for parents, especially those of young athletes, to exhibit what is known as benign “achievement by proxy,” in which they experience pride and joy through their child’s achievements but still recognize a child’s limitations, says Cartwright, who has worked extensively with young athletes and dancers as a dietitian.

“Achievement by proxy distortion,” however, occurs when parents struggle to differentiate between their own need and their child’s needs, and in order to achieve what they perceive as success, they may engage in risky behaviors, objectification or even abuse and exploitation of a child, elements of which Cartwright said she witnessed at the glitz pageants she attended.

Read more from this October 26 UANews article at the link below.

Date released: 
Oct 31 2012
Contact: 
Martina M. Cartwright