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From the POV of a Pageant Girl: Toddlers & Tiaras

By Michelle Leonardo
On December 9, 2011

A child sporting a spray tan, fake eyelashes, hair extensions and a flipper, (also known as a fake set of teeth,) can be seen every Wednesday night on TLC's hit show, Toddlers and Tiaras; a show created to explore the controversial world of child beauty pageants.

Since its premiere in early 2009, TLC has come under fire from numerous sources for depicting children as dolls that parents can dress up and flaunt around on stage.

According to a contributor, Karlee Peyton, "The pageants put the girls in a high stress environment and can negatively alter their self-esteem. Although, the show reveals some of the girls as spoiled and sassy, the high stress levels created by the competition and the mothers have an impact on the way these young ladies act."

Many people believe that it's the parents that are forcing their children to grow up too fast and are also responsible for over-sexualizing their young girls. "The extremes parents go to in order to prepare their children for competition, using padding, fake hair, flippers and spray tans causes the children tremendous confusion, wondering why they are not okay without those things," said New York licensed clinical social worker, Marc Sichel, to CNN in a recent report.

While I understand why people would feel this way, I can personally say competing in childhood pageants was the greatest thing I could have ever done and set me up for a life full of accomplishments and success.

When I was five years old I captured my very first title, Little Miss Hawaiian Tropic. I paraded around in front of a group of people in a bikini my mom bought at Target. The rest of the contestants were dressed in $500 bikinis with professional hair, makeup, and, of course, a spray tan. I had danced since the age of three, so being on stage was natural. Even with no prior experience, I left that evening with the crown because I knew how to work the stage and play with the audience without needing the expensive outfits, makeup or a spray tan.

That was fifteen years ago. Back in those days, you did not hear of parents dressing their children like Dolly Parton, fake breasts and all, or even replicating the infamous outfit of Julia Roberts' prostitute character in "Pretty Woman." It was more about the grace and elegance you possessed in an evening gown, the spunk you had in your sportswear routine and the difficulty of your talent. Although the temper tantrums and crazy pageant moms did exist, no one was considered to be over-sexualizing their daughter in pageants.

But the question really is: are these child beauty pageants innocent or are these girls having their innocence stolen?

In my case, pageants taught me discipline, boosted my self-esteem and gave me the confidence you need to get up in front of a group of people. With my desired career of being a broadcast journalist, those three things are the perfect recipe for success in that field. Then again, my mother never dressed me up as a prostitute or put padding in my dress.

Was the mother who dressed her daughter as a prostitute really comfortable with that, or was it just for the attention? If you push the envelope, you will be noticed. But is pushing your child as the envelope really the right way to get attention? We live in a society that is obsessed with fame; everyone these days wants the rock star lifestyle. But using your child as the catalyst to get there is not the road you want to take. The parent's desire for success is only going to hurt these beautiful little girls.

Not all of the parents are doing things just for attention; ‘Pageant Superstar' Eden Wood has maintained the image I had when I was a child. She wins titles because of her skills, not the scandalous outfits her ‘momager,' Mickie Wood, dresses her in.

Finally, although these children are seen throwing temper tantrums and having dramatic melt downs, it can easily be pin-pointed to manipulative video editing. You can take the sweetest child in the world and edit her clips to make her look like a spoiled-rotten brat. Who truly knows what those children are really like? But that's how reality TV remains successful.

Since the child beauty pageant world has vastly changed since I was young, I can't say for sure how these girls are going to end up when they're older. I was never confused as a child by what I was doing, I loved pageantry and still do to this day, I am the reigning Miss New Jersey USA 2012 after all, and couldn't have made it this far if I haven't loved it.

Many hope that these girls will not be effected by the caked on make-up and the strange pads their parents put in their tops, but only time will tell.

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