Meet Eden Wood. In American child beauty pageant circles, she is the reigning queen.
And now, she's coming to Australia and with her, pageant organisers, Universal Royalty.
A veritable shit storm has erupted over this and despite there being about a zillion voices already competing to be heard on the contentious issue that is child pageantry, I'm going to throw my hat in the ring, too.
That photo up there? Makes me want to vomit. And just based on the fact that you read The Little Mumma, I'm going to take a wild guess and say that it makes you want to vomit, too.
This child is FIVE YEARS OLD.
I don't have a daughter. But if I did, there is nothing in the known universe that could convince me to allow her to participate in such a competition.
I was a precocious child. I was a performer. I wanted to sing and dance, I wanted to be an actress and I loved nothing better than putting on Mum's lipstick and clomping around the house in her high heels. But that rite of passage kind of behaviour exists in a whole other realm as compared to what is being represented in the above picture of little Eden. When I was done clomping, I went outside and made mudpies. And nobody gave me a score out of ten.
But let me just think for one minute about what might drive a mother to enter her daughter in a beauty pageant. Is it because she thinks her kid is the most beautiful in the world?
Because I have been there.
When LD was a very small baby, I was convinced that he was the most beautiful baby on the planet. At the supermarket one day, I bought a magazine on the strength of the cover which announced a most beautiful baby competition. I entered my beautiful baby and I rallied friends to vote online for him. He did not win and I was filled with resentment when I clapped eyes on the child who did. Her? She wasn't half as cute as LD. I couldn't believe he hadn't even made the top 10. Who was running this thing? Clearly, it was rigged.
I never entered either of my kids in such a competition again.
Here's the thing. Entering LD required only that I send in a snapshot. He was blissfully unaware that he was even entered and certainly had no residual feelings about having lost.
In the pageant world, the child is primped and then paraded. Winning is the goal. Not winning has to be upsetting. And even if the child isn't upset, you can bet that Mum would be unable to conceal her own feelings of disappointment.
Unless you're the winner, what's left after your child competes is ugly. Pageant or cutest baby or whatever.
It's all ugly.
Does it suck to lose at a game of tennis, too? Sure, I did that plenty of times as a kid. But it never sent me to the mirror to wonder what it was about my face or body that made me lose.
Another admission. It's not completely incomprehensible to me why a mum might enter her kid in a pageant in order to reclaim her own youth or get the coveted crown that she herself could never quite claim.
Both LD and Zee are signed with my acting agent. In case either of them wants to perform, I know from experience that it is easier to build a career if you start early.
But here's where I think I differ from the pageant mums. Taking my kid to an audition makes me uneasy. What I originally thought might be 'a bit of fun' and a way to top up their bank accounts for the future is, in practise, uncomfortable. I am used to putting myself up for consideration, knowing full well that I may be chosen or I may not. When I think about the person being considered as my small child, I feel very conflicted. Why would I put my child in a position where strangers could weigh up whether he was 'right' or 'a good fit' or any other criteria by which they sought to judge him?
I don't like the idea of my child being reduced to a commodity.
There is some comfort in knowing that LD has no clue that he is being judged when he auditions. He is completely unaware that the other kids in the waiting room are in direct competition with him. I never prepare, push or prompt before or during an audition.
And still, it all feels….weird.
So then, I have to wonder how women can subject their daughters to this kind of competitiveness, chasing the prize so aggressively without feeling conflicted about the impact this might be having on their child.
I noted on the Universal Royalty website that for only $45 per photo, you can have your child's photo retouched – "We can add Teeth, Eyelashes, Change Backgrounds, Remove Blemishes, Change Colors and lots more." It's also only $45 to enter your child in the Beautiful Faces Photo Contest. Presumably, a retouched photo (now with added teeth!) stands a better chance of winning.
From the outset, it seems clear the message is that whoever you are is not enough. To be the best you can be requires fake lashes and rhinestones, blushed cheeks and bronzed limbs and even then, there's nothing a bit of photo retouching can't improve upon.
Once again, we're talking about CHILDREN.
I started this piece all prepared to be up in arms about child beauty pageants (which I still am) but have ended up considering whether choices I have made for my children are the right ones. I wonder if I'm a hypocrite.
But then I look at that picture of little Eden Wood.
The culture of child beauty pageants is not one I want to see flourish here in Australia.
Check out Pull The Pin an organisation against beauty pageants for children. There are public rallies happening across Australia tomorrow.