While there is certainly a spectrum of pageant types, the two main categories are Natural Pageants (sometimes known as Personality Pageants) and Glitz Pageants. And yes, they are exactly how they sound.
I know I’ve stayed pretty quiet about child pageants on this blog, mostly because shows like Toddlers and Tiaras made them seem like horror shows. Yet, I’ve found that in order to really see the difference in values and messages present in these two types of pageants, I have to put it in terms of the kids.
Did you know that, in pageantry, fake teeth are called “flippers?” Child contestants who have either lost teeth to the Tooth Fairy or who have dental issues but are too young for braces/procedures usually wear them. I’m trying to imagine my mother shoving fake, plastic teeth in my mouth and saying I couldn’t remove them for several hours.
Actually, I’m trying to imagine my mother spending several hundred dollars on non-corrective false teeth for a toddler or pre-teen. If suggested, I think she’d die of laughter.
Glitz pageants are all about physical appearance. These kids, ages 3 to 18 years old, wear acrylic nail, hairpieces, get dark spray tans (orange), and whiten whatever real teeth they’re allowed to show. Full wigs and bouffant hairstyles are encouraged, and “big hair” is a rule. They even where colored contacts! What kind of message is that? Sorry kid, but your eyes aren’t pretty enough.
Glitz pageants almost always have a swimsuit portion, even for the youngest of kids. There are also common poses that the contestants are encouraged to strike, many of which are suggestive of more mature themes. This has caused a lot of controversy over the years, with those against the swimwear portion saying that it is “inappropriate” and sexualizing children.
Yeah, this isn’t concerning at all.
There are also the outfits. (On right) This is a cupcake dress, the norm for formal wear. Most are dunked in crystals and bedazzled beyond the point of dignity. Maybe the rule is the gaudier the pricier, because these dresses can have hefty price tags. Some of the most elaborate break a thousand. Ouch.
Okay, and now lets talk about the pictures. There is a section in glitz pageants where contestants submit head shots for the “photogenic” competition. These photos are heavily photoshopped way beyond believability. That’s not a kid, that’s a computer generated doll.
Honestly, my time researching pageants has opened my mind to a lot of things. Glitz pageants are not one of those things.
I hit you with the glitz early, because honestly it’s like a band-aid: rip it off fast to lessen the pain. Still stings though.
In natural pageants, child contestants under the age of 13 cannot wear make-up. That means no foundation, no eyeliner, and certainly no fake eyelashes. If an individual competition does allow for such beauty products, it must be “age-appropriate,” meaning some lip gloss and maybe a brushing of mascara. This rule very much alleviates the notion that pageantry is teaching young girls that they must “fix” themselves in order to be considered pretty or worthy.
Natural pageants also forbid “flippers,” wigs, hairpieces, and frown on fake nails. The mindset is that little girls are supposed to look, and act, like little girls, albeit little girls at a very nice party. What a novel concept!
The reason that natural pageants are sometimes called personality pageant is because the focus is mainly on how the girls act and speak (contestants rarely speak in glitz pageants). The contestants compete in interviews which are designed to reveal the child’s personality, how they handle pressure and being the subject of attention, how fast they can think on their feet, and see what their likes and dislikes are.
There are (almost) never swimsuit portions of natural pageants. If there are, “age appropriate” suits are encouraged, mostly meaning no bikinis or two pieces. Dresses and formal wear are encouraged to be longer, often floor length or to the shins for older girls and to the knees for younger ones. Think Easter dresses or church wear – cute but not showy. Sometimes, the rules say that dresses cannot be custom made, simply bought and possibly tailored.
Common style for natural pageant dresses.
I know which show comes out on top for me (three guesses and the first two don’t count), but this is due to my own moral compass and personal experience attempting to navigate the “beauty standards” of the world. I have never attended a glitz pageant, so I can’t speak to the atmosphere or energy of the contestants that might counteract the factual awfulness.