Child Beauty Pageants: Growing Up On Stage

By Rita Cordero

When viewing the different subcultures that exist in our society, child beauty pageants and the individuals who participate in these competitions are commonly associated with behaviors that are against social norms. I will discuss the historical background of these pageants and how they were modeled after the famously known pageant, Miss America. I will also explain how child beauty pageants are a subculture and the manner in which they are represented in the media through Toddlers & Tiaras, a reality television show, and a documentary, Living Dolls. I will propose how I would represent this subculture as a documentary including my argument for my representation.

A History of Beauty Pageants in America

When looking at child beauty pageants, these competitions can be traced back to the first beauty pageants for women in Miss America. What exactly is a beauty pageant? According to Sarah Banet-Weiser, author of The Most Beautiful girl in the World: Beauty Pageants and National Identity, “Female contestants enter a competitive event, where they are judged based on beauty, personality, talent, and the ever so elusive ‘poise.’ A panel of judges evaluates each contestant, and the woman who garners the most points in the various events of the pageant – often including swimsuit, evening gown, talent, and the interview competitions – wins and is crowned ‘queen’” (31). The first Miss America pageant was held on September of 1921 with only eight contestants (from ages 15 to 17) in Atlantic City and it was known as a “bathing beauty contest” which took place on the beaches (Banet-Weiser 35).

During this time, it was the end of the summer and this pageant became a form of attraction for Hotelmen’s Association to increase and retain tourists (35). The first pageant was so successful in which 57 contestants participated the following year and the numbers kept growing each year (Banet-Weiser 36). Thus, beauty pageants not only became a large spectacle, but also a form of consumerism or business. Miss America has been the longest running pageant in the United States with the most well-known history (Banet-Weiser 44).

Banet-Weiser notes that although child beauty pageants can be traced back to the introduction to Miss America, these competitions do not mark the beginning of women being judged on their physical appearance (33). The characteristics on the structure of a pageants eventually evolved into several other types of pageants such as Miss Universe, Our Little Miss (children), and many more.

Child Beauty Pageants

The oldest and most-continuous child beauty pageant in the United States is Our Little Miss which took place in 1961 (Friedman 31). This pageant was modeled on an adult system, the Miss America Pageant, with local and regional competitions followed by a national competition (31). During the 1960s and 1970s, child beauty pageants became extremely popular as most parents of the 70s wanted their children to be involved in competitive environments in order to be outstanding both physically and mentally (31). Thus, competitions serve as an experience that offers the skills for successful futures. In the 1980s, the average cost to participate in competitive activities for children increased greatly which also demonstrated a gap within children from middle-class families versus other families (Friedman 32).

How child beauty pageants are a subculture

Child beauty pageants are viewed as a subculture through the practices that are typically deviant in our society, especially when focusing on contestants that are very young. Girls can start participating in beauty pageants as young as eight months old. In a subculture, the attire, argot (language), music, and consumption are perceived as anti-normative behaviors which are also associated with exaggerated or excessive characteristics (Gelder 4). These elements, including rituals, are different forms of behavior that can be found in child beauty pageants. These attributes can be viewed as excessive or deviant in various ways.


Rituals refer to “symbolic actions” that are commonly shared among individuals in the subculture (Gelder 23).

Rituals include training and preparations before every pageant through coaching. Aside from the preparation, some other common rituals include tanning and shopping for attire. In addition, consumption almost appears as a ritual itself. The actual pageant is comprised of the dominant rituals or performances such as the talent portion, swimsuit competition, evening attire, and interview. In all of these different portions, the contestants must walk on the stage, similar to a runway, in front of a panel of judges and the audience. Moreover, when looking at cultural space, there is no established area where beauty pageants are held because they usually take place in venues such as hotel ballrooms.


In beauty pageants, the contestants typically share common forms of attire which are usually seen as excessive or deviant because they’re revealing, covered with a surplus of jewels or gems, and they’re synthetic. The common attire for children in pageants are swimsuits, bedazzled and revealing dresses, fake teeth, makeup, fake nails, and wigs or hairpieces. All of these different forms of attire are used in pageants in order to enhance their beauty. When children wear all these different forms of attire, many individuals question whether or not it’s normal or even just because these children appear as small adults, which is ultimately unrealistic.

pageant 3


The music in pageants is usually very upbeat as the contestants have to dance and keep a high and positive energy throughout the whole competition. There are no specific genres of songs played during pageants, but it’s very common to hear pop songs playing while the girls dance or walk on stage. On the other hand, it’s also common to hear jazz or love songs with a slow tempo playing when the girls are walking out during the evening gown portion or beauty competition. It’s absolutely essential for the girls to keep smiling the entire time. In addition, several patriotic songs such as “God Bless America” are played throughout the pageant. The video below is an example of the music played during pageants and the types of dances commonly seen on stage.


This is referred to the vocabulary or slang used within a subculture. “Slang is used ‘by a closed group of people, often united by common interests,’ not attached to work or profession and therefore, potential at least, subcultural” (Gelder 14).

Some common argot used is “glitz,” which is the type of child beauty pageants involving the attire and rituals that make the young girls appear as small adults (Universal Royalty National Pageant 2009). Annette Hill, a pageant director from the pilot of Toddlers & Tiaras stated, “It’s a glitz pageant and what that means its that we like the diamonds, and the pearls, and the Rhine stones. We like the bling bling. In any competition, there are hair pieces. We like the hair extensions and hairpieces because it enhances everything. We love fake eyelashes” (Universal Royalty National Pageant 2009). Thus, ‘glitz’ or ‘glitzy’ are commonly used to describe the excessive embellishments in attire, music, and rituals or behavior.

pageant 2


Only in a culture that represses the evidence of the senese could child pageantry grow into a $5 billion dollar industry without anyone noticing. Only in a nation of promiscuous puritans could it be a good career move to equip a six-year-old with bedroom eyes” (Giroux 265).

In child beauty pageants, parents spend hundreds and even thousands of dollars on pageant coaches, attire (makeup, dresses, swimsuits, wigs, fake-teeth), registration fees, and transportation. According to Henry A. Giroux, there are over 3,000 pageants each year in the United States with over 100,000 children under the age of twelve participating as contestants (271). In addition, some children as young as 8 years old participate in pageants (271). Parents spend between $250 and $800 to have their child participate in pageants. This demonstrates how pageants are not only a large profitable business, but parents need to have a relatively good income in order to have their children compete, let alone have the highest quality attire and coaching. “Promoters market pleaser and rake in big dividends, with some making as much as $100,000 on each event. In addition, child beauty pageants have produced an offshoot of support industries, ‘including costume designers, grooming consultants, interview coaches, photographers, and publishers,’ not to mention the cosmetics, weight-reduction, and other beauty aid industries” (271-272).


Aside from being televised spectacles, individuals consume magazines such as Pageant Life “which has a circulation of sixty thousand” and includes advertisements, photographs, and images on beauty (272). Giroux finds that these magazines play a role in shaping and influencing a young girls ideas on beauty, desires, and femininity. For example, in 1994, Life magazine featured eleven-year-old Blaire as a young pageant queen with multiple titles (272). What’s interesting is how Blaire’s success was due to her parent’s investment on Tony, their voice coach and makeup artist, who was paid forty dollars an hour to completely transform her (272). “The article reported that Bruce is captivated by his daughter’s beauty but prefers it enhanced: He apologizes to strangers when she is not wearing makeup. Some parents have accused Bruce of enhancing Blaire’s looks with surgery” (272).

Other popular magazines in the subculture are Talent Gazette and Babette’s Pageant which include toddlers from ages two to four years old in seductive poses that make them appear like small adults (272). These sexualized images make them appear like idols of beauty to those within the pageant community, but what does this suggest to others? According to Giroux, these images have “dangerous implications in a world where 450,000 American children were reported as victims of sexual abuse in 1993” (272). Young girls in makeup and revealing outfits portray them as sexual objects which has led to numerous debates about children participating in beauty pageants. In addition, other debates are centered around innocence, beauty, femininity, and identity.

Consumption plays an essential role in child beauty pageants. The pageant industry is a large business and the consumption demonstrates how investing in high quality preparation and coaching will ultimately win the titles and crowns.

Toddlers & Tiaras 

pageant 1

Toddlers & Tiaras is popular reality show on TLC which focuses on child beauty pageants. Pageants are spectacles themselves, but this show displays the lives of the children who participate and their parents on and off stage. When viewing numerous episodes, the pilot, “Universal Royalty National Pageant,” sets the stage for the program itself as the audience peers into this competitive side of young girls, as young as eight months old, and their mothers. What makes this episode unique is this specific competition involves the participation of both the children and parents as contestants to win a $5,000 cash prize. Thus, the mothers also participate and even have an understanding of the self-preparation and overall experience in a pageant. Furthermore, this episode serves as a demonstration on how the parents try to vicariously live through their children through these competitions.

In this episode, the audience is introduced to three different contestants, Rebecca, Meaghan, and Ava, and their mothers. Rebecca Alley is six years old and her mom Stacey, are both training together for this pageant. In an interview, Stacey discusses how they practice for several weeks and twice a day when the pageant approaches quickly, including weekends. John Corner’s ideas of conventional functions, one being Documentary on Journalistic Inquiry and Exposition, is demonstrated through these interviews and several others throughout the show with the parents and children. He stated, “This [Documentary as Journalistic Inquiry and Exposition] is essentially the documentary as reporting…which importantly includes an experience of looking at kinds of visual evidence, an experience of witness (Corner 259). For example, after Stacey discusses the long hours of training, the scene following this interview serves as a form of evidence because we view Rebecca and her mother practicing their routines with their pageant coach. Throughout the entire episode, Stacey seems more enthusiastic than Rebecca on participating in a pageant and being on stage. During the beauty competition or evening attire portion, Rebecca walks on stage and the host says “her ambition is to be a rock star one day just like Hannah Montana” (Universal Royalty National Pageant 2009). I find this interesting because today Hannah Montana’s character and Miley Cyrus herself have taken on a completely new identity. However, Rebecca sharing this as an ambition further demonstrates how females in the media can impact and shape ideas for young girls.

The second girl is nine year old Meaghan Jones and her mother, Phyllis. Automatically, Phyllis identifies herself as the competitive mother. She stated, “I am in it to win it” and discusses how her daughter has been involved in pageants since she was eight months old. She also describes how these pageants will give her daughter the opportunity for a career in television or modeling, both of which involve her daughter being a visual image in the media. However, we don’t hear much of what Meaghan aspires to be or a career path, other than Miss America. In one scene, we see Phyllis taking her daughter to a gymnastic center to practice her poise and routine for the talent competition. Immediately before we see Phyllis coaching Meaghan the entire time and criticizing her for every detail that’s incorrect, there’s a shot of a sign hanging near them stating, “ATTENTION ALL PARENTS, FOR THE SAFETY OF YOUR CHILD, PLEASE DO NOT COACH OR YELL AT THEM” (Universal Royalty National Pageant 2009). Then, we see Meaghan sighing of exhaustion, which one can assume is both physical and mental. Nichols’ description of the observational mode can be applied to this scene because Phyllis is framed as a competitive and controlling mother and Meaghan appears as the obedient child as she continues to keep practicing. He stated, “The observational mode stressed the nonintervention of the filmmakers. Such films cede “control” over the events that occur in front of the camera more than any other mode” (Nichols 38). The filmmakers captured this moment of conflict or tension as Phyllis coached her daughter in the gym despite the rules posted on the sign. Thus, the observational mode was employed by filmmakers in order to represent the relationship between a parent and a child in a competitive environment. This scene implies how Phyllis is pressuring Meaghan to continue practicing for perfection that will lead to winning a title. This mode raises questions of ethics due to the filmmakers potentially invading their lives, however, Phyllis and Meaghan display this interaction in a public area, the gymnastics center. Therefore, if Phyllis displays this eccentric behavior in a public setting, the filmmakers are only capturing this conflict in an athletic environment where the pressure to strive for perfection is commonly perceived.

Here’s a clip of Meaghan and her mother, Phyllis.

The third girl is two year old Ava and her parents, David and Tanya Perez. These parents have been involving Ava in pageants since she was eight months old. David is the first father introduced to the show as he is the coach, makeup artist, costume designer, and even her sideline cheerleader during the pageants. In each interview with David, he consistently discusses how pageants are a path for a successful future. He even expresses how they knew they wanted Ava to participate in pageants when they discovered Tanya was pregnant with a girl. Therefore, Ava was immediately born into the subculture as her parents are trying to shape her life and identity before she was even born. In one scene, we see Tanya in an interview discussing how her daughter is a great competitor while we see Ava in the background breaking the top of one of her trophies. This representation serves as a reflective approach, which Stuart Hall states, “meaning is thought to lie in the object, person, idea, or event in the real world, and language functions like a mirror” (Hall 24). Thus, this scene demonstrates the anti-normative behaviors of the parents by them urging Ava to continue practicing and view pageants as a serious competition. Furthermore, Ava’s does not demonstrate much enthusiasm and being that she is only two years old, she doesn’t appear to have a great understanding of these pageants.

It’s important to note that her parents mention in an interview that the cash prizes are saved for Ava’s future, but they have “other responsibilities” as well. This makes one question whether if these competitions are actually for Ava’s future or for the benefit of her parents? I feel as though her parents view Ava as an asset for prizes because her training at a young age will eventually mold her into the desired pageant competitor. This demonstration of how David and Tanya place a monetary value on Ava’s potential achievements serves as a constructionist approach fromt the filmmakers. Hall describes this as  “meaning constructed in and through language” (Hall 15). Therefore, David reasons for Ava participating in pageants is represented through his interview which frames him as an eccentric, self-obsessed parent. Another interesting feature of the show is how David is more involved in the pageant culture than Tanya. He stated, “You need to fix a flat tire, go to her. If you need to win Miss Universe, you come to me. I can bead a gown, but I can’t fix a flat tire. You would think these [the tiaras] would belong to me with all this work” (Universal Royalty National Pageant 2009). This quote is used as a voiceover while the audience views David sewing and organizing costumes for Ava which is an intentional approach from the filmmakers. Hall states, “It [the intentional approach] holds that is the speaker, the author, who imposes his or her unique meaning on the world through language” (Hall 25). Therefore, the audience views how gender is represented contrary to the social norms as David portrays a flamboyant pageant dad and coach.

Before the pageant, there are interviews with only two judges, Kimberly Nobles and Michael G. Flores. Kimberly only stated, “I really like to look at the features of the child to see how they’re going to translate to print” (Universal Royalty National Pageant 2009). She only expresses a brief statement on the appearance of the girls on stage and how they would appear in photographs. Michael discusses how he has been a judge for 15 years and that he is known to be a judge with more selective scoring as he focuses on everything about the contestants. As these interviews serve as a form of evidence, according to Corner, Bill Nichols also discusses different ways in which reality is constructed. He stated, “Interactive documentary stresses images of testimony or verbal exchange and images of demonstration (images that demonstrate the validity of possibly, the doubtfulness of what witnesses state)” (Nichols 44). This can be applied to the way in which the interviews with different individuals, especially the judges, serve as evidence that these pageants are viewed as serious competitions.

During the talent portion, we see several mothers with their babies and toddlers on stage, as they almost appear as puppet masters because the girls are too young to do most of the acts on their own. In one shot, there’s one mother grabbing the girls hips and shaking them. This is followed by different shots of girls crying when they arrive on stage and the mothers are trying to encourage them to continue while a small crowd continues to take photographs. These images are an intentional approach to represent how these mothers go beyond social norms to force their children to perform on stage. During this portion of the competition, we see also Stacey, Rebecca’s mom, state how the spandex costume she’s wearing makes her feel confident because she feels skinny which can demonstrate the value placed on body image through the association that being thin is beautiful.

I found Annette Hall, the director, to be very contradicting throughout the show because of the statements she made on the contestants and the pageants. For example, she expressed how glitz was admired because of all the excessive gems on the outfits and the synthetic beauty enhancements, yet she says she does not like fake tans. She stated, “I really truly don’t like tanning too much. I think if a child competes, they should compete with whatever what gave them on Earth to compete in” (Universal Royalty National Pageant 2009). In addition, she also discusses that she likes the traditional one piece suit and she’s doesn’t want the little kids to have a two piece because it’s too sexy, yet the scene immediately after includes different shots of the girls, all ages, shaking their hips and walking seductively on stage while we hear the saxophone music play in the background. Annette’s voiceover during these scenes are used by the filmmakers as a constructionist approach in which the images contradict what’s being said. This demonstrates that the filmmakers want to represent the excessive behavior not only from the participants, but also from the individuals involved in organizing these pageants.  

In the end, Ava won first runner-up and she actually appears very happy on state, but her parents are extremely disappointed because she did not win the grand title. David discusses how he has to “explain to her that today wasn’t one of her days” even though she did not see the loss as a failure (Universal Royalty National Pageant 2009). This demonstrates how Ava clearly does not view the pageants in a serious manner because she’s viewed as toddler that prefers to enjoy herself, which most children should. On the other hand, Rebecca and Meaghan left with multiple trophies and grand titles. It’s interesting to see how the titles such as Queen, Princess, and Miss are associated with the different power structures in reality for royalty. Again, we see Annette expressing how Meaghan was excellent and won Grand Supreme because of her titles and “natural beauty” while she wears a variety of synthetic beauty enhancers (Universal Royalty National Pageant 2009).

Being that this competition takes place in Austin, Texas, many of the different scenes in the episode involving the transition from one contestant to another involves shots of the houses from different angles, the other houses in the neighborhood, farms, and open roads. These visual codes are an intentional approach from the filmmakers to emphasize the Southern environment in which most of these pageants take place. These different images of a rural setting also imply the lack of activity in these areas, thus most people might participate in competitions because there any other activities to be involved in. Another theme of this episode, which ties into the idea of exaggeration in a subculture, is excessive quantities. For example, Rebecca introduces herself by stating that she has 31 crowns and 29 trophies. There are also different shots of excessive amounts of trophies, crowns, sashes, and dresses throughout the show. Overall, when looking at Toddlers & Tiaras and how the show frames or represents the subculture, the parents appear more enthusiastic than their children. The young girls appear almost monotone as if they’re told how to view this culture. For example, Tanya tells Ava, “Say I am a princess. Say I love pageants. Say that” (Universal Royalty National Pageant 2009). The parents are viewed as controlling individuals as they coach and prepare their children for these pageants.

Living Dolls

Living Dolls is an HBO documentary from 2001 based on child beauty pageants in the Southern states such as Texas, South Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, and Alabama. Initially, the documentary opens with a statement, “The following film was shot in the South, where child beauty pageants are a way of life” (Living Dolls 2001). The audience is introduced to five year old Swan Brooner, her mother, Robin Browne, and the rest of her family including Robin’s boyfriend and her other children. Throughout the documentary, the filmmakers provide different texts on the screen as a description for the different settings and background information. This can relate to the Expository Mode because “the text addresses the viewer directly, with titles or voices that advance an argument about the historical world” (Nichols 34). In addition, interviews are also included as supporting evidence for the overall argument that implies the serious competitive environment within child beauty pageants where parents will place en enormous amount of pressure on their children to win and succeed.

This documentary has a different tone from Toddlers & Tiaras in which it’s not as humorous or entertaining, rather it’s more serious because it demonstrates Robin is framed as an aggressive mother who will raise her voice and demand that Swan continues to practice her routine until it’s perfect. She states, “I’ll do whatever it takes, even if it means working three jobs” (Living Dolls 2001). Robin comes from a military background and her older children even call her a drill sergeant in their interviews. This exchange between the filmmakers and the older children, alongside images of Robin yelling, serve as evidence for Robin’s demand for perfection which can relate to Corner’s description of Documentary as Journalistic Inquiry and Exposition (Corner 259). Throughout the film, Swan is usually seen very upset as her mother is brutally honest with her criticism. Through Robin’s aggressive attitude towards Swan, the filmmakers are implying that Robin is a demanding mother which is an intentional approach to express anti-normative behavior. However, this representation makes the audience feel concerned for Swan because she’s under a great amount of pressure from her mother. In addition, the audience might view Robin’s anti-normative behavior in a negative manner in which people would portray as bad parenting. While Swan practices her walk and poses, Robin is seen shouting, “What are you doing wrong?!” (Living Dolls 2001). This scene serves as a demonstration of the Observational Mode as the filmmaker captures the tension between Swan and her mother (Nichols 38).

When looking at the dynamic of the family, the audience views how Swan’s father is absent from the family, but Robin’s boyfriend serves a supportive figure. Furthermore, Robin’s oldest son, “Bubba,” is constantly getting himself in trouble and eventually goes to juvenile detention. The filmmakers note his rebellious behavior with text displayed on the screen as a constructionist approach to represent how Robin’s lack of attention to her son is negatively impacting his behavior at school and home. Moreover, the relationship between Bubba and Robin is almost nonexistent because she spends the majority of her time training with Swan and focusing on her pageants. This demonstrates the negative effects the demanding pageant culture may have on a family when one sibling attempts to gain attention through his deviant behavior in high school. The interviews with the different members of the family relates to the Interactive Mode in which you can hear the interviewer asking questions and the different members serving as evidence as testimony. Nichols stated, “Textual authority shifts toward the social actors recruited: their comments and responses provide a central part of the film’s argument” (Nichols 44). Thus, the exchange between the interviewer and the interviewee includes the involvement of the filmmaker in order to demonstrate the conflicts within the family.

In this film, the audience views several houses, quiet roads, flags from the Southern states, and country music playing which tie into the Southern environment. There are also different houses displayed for the different families that serve as an indication of the status or class of the family. Similar to Toddlers & Tiaras, we also perceive the numerous images of crowns, trophies, cash prizes, and dresses displayed in excessive or large quantities. These images of excessive quantities are an intentional approach by the filmmakers to represent the setting and overall environment of those involved with the child beauty pageant culture. Moreover, the popularity of pageants in the South are also noted as Robin’s boyfriend states, “There’s nothing else to do” (Living Dolls 2001). Therefore, these representations imply the South possesses a competitive nature due to the lack of other activities.

The two main coaches, Shane King and Michael Butler, are popular in the pageant culture because their children are competitors and they have trained numerous children that have won titles. For example, Michael’s daughter, Lindsey, is seven years old and she has won 27 titles since she was 3 weeks old. Her father stated, “She was asleep, but she still won” (Living Dolls 2001). Michael and Shane appear as flamboyant individuals as they train the girls to be flirty and energetic. These scenes themselves are is very campy as they act out how the girls should dance and walk on stage. We see a hierarchical division between the individuals that can afford to work with Michael and Shane and those who coach their children themselves. When Robin sees that Swan is having a losing streak, she travels 700 miles to work with these coaches and spends thousands of dollars to finance this training. Fortunately, her daughter does win a national title after working with these two men, but the film demonstrates that Robin spent $1,200 alone on a rented designer dress for Swan. These facts are displayed as text on the screen in order as a constructionist approach from the filmmakers to represent the importance of consumption.

Living Dolls frames the pageant culture in a more extreme or serious tone as you witness the long hours of practice while the sun sets and the consumption centered around winning. The parents and coaches appear more aggressive and demanding as these competitions are a “way of life” (Living Dolls 2001). The power is greatly centered on these individuals because their children are pushed to continue practicing despite being so tired and exhausted. Moreover, the representations of Robin and her anti-normative behaviors make the audience feel sympathetic for children that have to participate in pageants and this competitive environment. Living Dolls serves as an example how the pageant culture has a great impact on the family as a whole rather than just the relationship between the parent and child.

My Documentary and Representation of Child Beauty Pageants

Child beauty pageants are competitions similar to the ideas of sports (skills such as discipline, teamwork, etc.). However, being that the idea of beauty is judged and represented, different practices in pageants can be harmful to the manner in which children view themselves and perceive beauty and even gender. For my representation of child beauty pageants, I would create a documentary including the preparation and training for these competitions and the actual events. I feel that a documentary provides many visual representations through archival footage, photographs, interviews, and even statistics. I would like my documentary to be different than Toddlers & Tiaras in which the pageant culture would not be represented in a humorous tone. Rather, I would like to demonstrate my argument similar to Living Dolls in which I would include a serious tone with anti-normative behavior demonstrated by all the individuals involved in pageants.

I would like to conduct interviews with parents, children/contestants, judges from pageants, and coaches. These different interviews would provide the viewpoints of all the individuals involved in child beauty pageants from a variety of angles. These interviews would serve as evidence relating to the Interactive Mode of a documentary as images of testimony (Nichols 44). I would also like to include evidence of parents that have gone so far as to have their children get Botox, wear sexual articles of clothing, and go tanning in order to enhance their beauty. When looking at the media representations of beauty, Sarah Banet-Weiser and Laura Portwood-Stacer stated, “The Miss America crown has been held up to be attainable by ‘ordinary women; this crown, like commercial success, like the American dream, is there for those who try…The Miss America contestant’s body, through her disciplined physique, her commitment to virtue, and her testimony to stability, represented a well-managed collective American body (Banet-Weiser, Portwood-Stacer 2006). Thus, Miss America and reality shows on beauty enhancement demonstrate the ideal images of beauty which others may feel as though they can achieve as well through different physical processes and beauty aids.


Lastly, I would also like to share my own personal experience in a beauty pageant to support my argument aside from the visual evidence. I wasn’t involved in a child beauty pageant, but the competition itself and the environment as a whole can relate to the pageants demonstrated on television shows and documentaries. There’s a tremendous amount of pressure from everyone involved, whether it’s your family or the individuals working with a particular organization, to be an ideal representation of beauty, poise, and etiquette. In Friedman’s book, Playing to Win, she shared the effects children had from extremely competitive activities. For example, “they talked about when kids cry and when they themselves get upset. It is not always smooth sailing, but they cope with lucky charms, friendships, and the like, and trophies and other rewards keep them motivated at this age” (Friedman 211). Other negative effects included spending less time with friends and how children view themselves (211). Thus, children have a distorted view of beauty images and this competitive nature.

Overall, when viewing how child beauty pageants are a subculture, it’s important to remember how the anti-normative behaviors are represented. Whether it’s in a humorous tone, like Toddlers & Tiaras, or a serious lifestyle relating to Living Dolls, the parents play a vital role in the children participating in these pageants. The rituals, attire, music, argot, and consumption are greatly exaggerated and excessive, which ultimately construct child beauty pageants as a subculture. My documentary would be my own representation in which I would consider how pageants are framed in other outlets, but emphasize how parents are vicariously living through their children and affecting their psychological and sociological development through anti-normative behaviors and unrealistic expectations.


Banet-Weiser, Sarah. The Most Beautiful Girl in the World: Beauty Pageants and National Identity. Berkeley: University of California, 1999. 31-44. Print.

Banet-Weiser, Sarah, and Laura Portwood-Stacer. ‘I Just Want to Be Me Again!’ Beauty Pageants, Reality Television, and Post-feminism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2006. Print.

Corner, John. (2002). “Performing the Real: Documentary Diversions.” Television New Media, 3, 259.

Friedman, Hilary Levey. Playing to Win: Raising Children in a Competitive Culture. Berkeley: University of California, 2013. 31-32. Print.

Gelder, Ken. Subcultures: Cultural Histories and Social Practice. London: Routledge, 2007. 4-23. Print.

Giroux, Henry A. “Chapter Fifteen: Stealing Innocence – The Politics of Child Beauty Pageants.”The Children’s Culture Reader. Ed. Henry Jenkins. New York: New York UP, 1998. 271-272. Print.

Hall, Stuart. “Chapter 1: The Work of Representation.” Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London: Sage in Association with the Open University, 1997. 15+. Print.

Living Dolls: The Making of a Child Beauty Queen. HBO, 2001. Documentary.

Nichols, Bill. Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1991. 33-44. Print.

“Universal Royalty National Pageant.” Toddlers & Tiaras. TLC. Silver Spring, Maryland. 27 Jan. 2009. Television.

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