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Toddlers and Tiaras is teaching kids the wrong lesson about inner beauty

The new season of Toddlers and Tiaras tells the story of little girls and their moms competing in child beauty pageants. This show is mostly geared toward finding the contestant who looks the best in dresses, with fake hair, and lots of makeup. But what happens when we bring our children into this scene of makeup and ball gowns where they emphasize succeeding because of how you look on the outside? Is this healthy for children?

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The show however, is wildly entertaining and it’s fascinating to watch the parents become stage moms and coaches. But the attention to the superficial on the show feels a bit saddening, and I wonder if the children can separate fiction from reality.

When I was growing up, my mom allowed my sister and I to paint our nails on special occasions, and sometimes let us wear lip gloss or play with makeup if we wanted to play dress up. In my work as a marriage and family therapist, I try to instill positive values of internal beauty and emphasize healthy self-esteem. While there is nothing wrong with an adult deciding to wear makeup or fashion, it should not be as glorified as it is today. Looks matter though, the Halo Effect (The theory that attractive people are often judged as having a more desirable personality and more skills than someone of average appearance.) shows that as a society we tend to value what looks good as being good. As adults we can deal with this and try to emphasize what is more important and give less attention to the external superficialities. But, what about children? How do we teach children that makeup and great hair don’t necessarily make a great person?

In defense of Toddlers and Tiaras, maybe the parents and mothers only allow the makeup and dresses on the stage. Could it be that the parents tell their daughters that this kind of elaborate dress up and caked-on makeup with eye lashes prettier than mine are just for competition time? Well, I hope so and I’m pretty sure they are all just typical children outside the stage. I think it is OK to involve children in extracurricular activities that they enjoy and have fun with. Some may feel a desire to go into stage and drama, and others sports or maybe music. A soccer player has knee pads and jerseys and I guess a pageant participant has makeup and sequins. But, the latter must be careful to teach that looks are not everything and being pretty does not make us a better person. It is our actions and kindness that do.

Makeup in children outside the stage is not desirable for anyone under the teenage years. The makeup scene is best left for adults who understand what it is all about. Children under sixteen (that may even be too old nowadays) should not be accustomed to hair salons or makeup counters. I even think manicures and pedicures should be left for the older children. But, we see outrageous things in the public eye where parents are emphasizing adult-like beauty to young children. It is a lacking on these parents’ part to understand that adult things are better left for adults – not children. It’s too early.

The lesson I feel it is important to remember is to raise children emphasizing the right things. While in society there will always be attention given to beauty, the best option is to just make other things a priority and place more value on being a kind person above anything else. The media and makeup companies are not going away anytime soon so it is best to help children learn that it does not matter what someone looks like. If they want to wear makeup and fashion, let them do so when they are adults. Childhood is not a place for focusing on beauty.

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