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Child beauty pageants unanimously opposed in Seanad

By Ann Marie Foley - 10 March, 2014

Senator Jillian Van Turnhout.

Senator Jillian Van Turnhout.

Putting little girls and boys into beauty pageants for which they are neither physically nor cognitively ready constitutes “theft of childhood” Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, has said.

She was speaking in support of a Seanad private members’ motion opposing such pageants in Ireland.

The motion was put forward by Senator Jillian Van Turnhout, who said that child beauty pageants go against values in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Senator Van Turnhout added that childhood is “unique” and that judging children by their attractiveness and physical attributes is contrary to protecting childhood.

She cautioned that negative body image starts too early for young people.

Senator Van Turnhout also welcomed the Irish Dancing Commission’s new rules baning the use of make-up, false eyelashes, tinted moisturiser, and any artificial tanning products for the face for all dancers aged ten years and under.  

Jillian Van Turnhout was Taoiseach Enda Kenny’s  nominee to the Seanad, based on her professional, voluntary and community work on children’s rights over the last decade.

She is a member of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children.

Barnardos also welcomed the Seanad debate and the motion which was unanimously passed by senators.

“Exposing young girls to a highly competitive environment where they are judged purely on their outward appearance is appalling,” Fergus Finlay, CEO of Barnardos, said.

“Research has shown that early sexualisation of children is having a detrimental effect on young girls’ self-esteem and their physical and mental health, even contributing to eating disorders and depression among pre-teenage girls,” he underlined.

Fergus Finlay, CEO of Barnardos.

Fergus Finlay, CEO of Barnardos.

The Barnardos CEO added that the emphasis on make-up, costumes and fake tan destroys children’s innate innocence and instils in them the sense that other qualities like intelligence and kindness are of little importance compared with perceived beauty.

“Among the most sinister outcomes of participating in this highly sexualised environment is the serious risk of exploitation of teenage girls’ vulnerabilities by others.”

“Through their participation in beauty pageants, young girls are learning how to look sexy in an adult way, but no one is teaching them what to do if they receive unwelcome adult attention, putting them at potential risk of grooming and exploitation,” Fergus Finlay warned.

Barnardos said parents need to be aware of the potential harm to children’s well-being posed by involvement in beauty pageants.

The charity concluded that everyone strives to make Ireland the best, safest place in the world to be a child, however, child beauty pageants are a threat to that goal.

Last September, a Dublin Hotel which was to host Ireland’s first child beauty pageant cancelled the booking, saying it was not told of the true nature of the event.

The event took place in an alternative venue amid much criticism and concern that such events contribute to the exploitation and sexualisation of children.

However, the American organisers responded that child beauty pageants should be a positive learning experience for contestants to learn competition, positive self confidence and striving to be the best.

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