I’ve never been a beauty pageant kind of girl. I realize this is strange to say considering I will be participating in Miss Plus-Size International 2013 (MPSI). But the reason I was attracted to this pageant is precisely because it seemed like the antithesis of what normal pageants are all about. MPSI isn’t about dictating what beauty should look like. It isn’t about striving to be thin and/or encouraging others to do so. It’s about body love. It’s about showing that big and beautiful aren’t antonyms – but that they are symbiotic, cohesive, one and the same. It seemed real – like it encompassed all my opinions about being a larger woman.
All that said, I still have my qualms with the world of pageantry. Often I find them painfully misogynistic and sickeningly kitschy. But grown women have the choice of whether or not to participate in such events. Children on the other hand – that’s another story. I can’t tell you how repulsive I find the fact that something like Toddlers and Tiaras could be a global success. I doubt Honey Boo Boo started off as the demon child she is now – but rather, her mother and the pageant world are probably to blame. And yet, still… I understand these pageant moms. I get that they are living vicariously through their children. As wrong as it is, these mothers think turning their five-year-olds into painted princesses will fulfill their own lifelong goals of wearing a plastic crown. As far as I can tell, these moms were either unfortunately unattractive through their own lives, and thus use their kids to make up for that. Or they were the pageant types themselves, and want to carry on the twisted cycle. It’s wrong; it makes me want to puke up my guts; but I get it.
A few days ago, though, I found out child beauty pageants aren’t just for toddlers. They exist for babies too. There are actually pageants for infants – usually beginning at the sixth month mark. These babies compete just as those toddlers in damn tiaras do: they’re decked out in casual wear, swimwear and evening wear for some creepy ass judges to decide which infant looks best in a tiny bikini. There is more wrong with this concept than I can possibly express. It isn’t just that there is something intensely perverse and almost pedo-like about it. It isn’t just that I don’t understand what kind of parent would put their baby in a position to be judged and scrutinized in public. As though these things weren’t bad enough, the babies aren’t even allowed to look like normal babies. They are photo shopped intensely. Chubby cheeks are slenderized. Blemishes (you know, the miniature bumps babies get on their skin from people kissing their cheeks) are brushed away. And makeup is either actually applied on the skin or artificially applied on the web (my guess is this varies depending on just how screwed up the parents are). It’s the kind of thing you expect to see in teen and adult pageants. The kind of thing we see in toddler pageants, but let slide because the kids are at least old enough to speak and complain and walk down the runway themselves. But on babies…
Babies are supposed to be chunky, people. I can’t help but wonder – is our culture so obsessed with thinness and aesthetic perfection that even infants cannot escape it? I realize the percentage of babies in pageants is small compared to the percentage of babies not in pageants. Yet, this seems like little consolation. Are all these babies fated for a Honey Boo Boo lifestyle? It seems to me that most girls begin doubting their bodies and striving to be skinny right around the 12 year mark. When puberty starts setting in, when they begin observing what the average celebrity or model looks like, when their peers tease them for the baby fat that is practically unnoticeable, because those peers are also probably in a downward spiral of body hatred and looking for someone to take it out on. But if you condition your child to believe it’s ok to tweak their weight since infancy, what hope is there that that child will have any kind of open-minded, normal perception on weight and beauty? What chance is there that that child, if heavy in later life, will love her body?
If not even an infant is allowed to simply look like an infant, chunky cheeks included, what hope is there for an older child – for a teenager – for a young woman? I like to think social perceptions on weight are changing. Something like Gabifresh’s swimwear shoot for Swimsuits4All wouldn’t have been possible a few years ago. God forbid a normal-sized women model a bikini… Yet, now we see it often, on countless blogs and even in professional campaigns. I like to think that slowly it’s becoming acceptable to be bigger. But then I think of things like baby pageants, and I wonder, how far can we go in terms of fat pride and acceptance when not even babies are allowed to look like babies? How far can we go if we convince our children that they must be thin to be beautiful?
I fear that this new generation of pageant babies and toddlers will grow into the same kind of generation of teens and young adults obsessed with looking perfect – as though such a word even existed (with the exception of Ryan Gosling). I fear it will be just another generation of self-deprecating, thin-obsessed teenyboppers like the girls I grew up with. It’s hard to have hope for any positive changes when there are still so many people who fail to see anything wrong in photo-shopping a six month old baby’s face to make her look like an emaciated doll. But I have to hold on to hope – I have to keep in mind that pageants like the one I’m participating in exist now, and are trying to combat the image those other pageants want to convey. I have to keep in mind that I’ve met many people since starting this blog who feel how I feel and see the beauty in the big just as I truly do. And I have to keep in mind that those baby pageant moms are probably deranged.