Apparently Autism & Beauty Pageants Don’t Mix…
I read this story last night and, to be honest, it really, really disturbed me. Then I found the photo above and it all disturbed me just a little bit more…
If you happened to have missed it, the story centred around the controversial Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant held in Melbourne last weekend and how the mother of a 9 year old girl with autism was outraged that her daughter had won Best Personality.
According to the report, the mother accused the judges of unprofessionalism and was baffled how her daughter, with limited social skills, could have been judged to have the best personality.
One of the promoters contended that the competition was about making the children feel good about themselves. And then added, quite helpfully, that the judges decision was final…
I am uneasy about this story for so, so many reasons (and not just about the questionable reporting):
1. Why enter your child in a competition if you are going to be upset if they happen to win? I really, really hope the mother’s comments were taken out of context because it reflects so badly on her, her daughter, the pageant and those with autism.
I understand that she may have felt the win to be an empty gesture to her daughter but why make it worse by publicly stating that she did not deserve to win? How will her daughter feel when she reads how her mother publicly questioned her achievement?
The only possible reason I could see for entering your child into such a competition would be to boost their self-esteem. The mother’s unfortunate comments would have had the exact opposite effect on her daughter…I am truly baffled as to the reason she entered her daughter in the first place.
2. The whole beauty pageant thing puzzles and disturbs me. I truly don’t understand why parents enter their kids into beauty pageants. I have been repulsed by the whole idea ever since those unnaturally made-up images of poor JonBenet Ramsey were splashed around the world after her murder in 1996.
I mentioned in my earlier point that the only reason I could see for entering your child into such a competition was to boost their self-esteem. I can think of a thousand better ways to increase self-esteem than dressing them up like little adults and teaching them to dance and move in highly sexualised ways.
Having said that, my highly impressionable Matilda Bear saw the ACA report on Friday night and asked whether she could be in a contest where she could sing, dance and get to wear a tiara…personally, I would rather stab my own eyes out than encourage that particular interest, but she does have a talent for drama and performance.
If cultivating that interest and talent meant we had to go down the road of talent quests, and if performing made her happy and feel good, I would do it. But only if SHE wanted to do it. I’ve already survived (barely) 2 years of dancing lessons and concerts – I LOVED catching up with my friends each week and LOVED watching her perform but HATED applying make-up and changing costumes, etc. I will certainly never be accused of being a pushy, ambitious, performance mum!
3. The inference made that anyone with autism could not have the best personality due to limited social skills. My highly entertaining Gilbert Bear has the most amazingly inquisitive mind and comes out with the funniest one-liners. He tells it like it is and while that is sometimes not socially ideal (he has absolutely no tact) at least you know where you stand with him!
Contrary to the view expressed in the article, I actually think that someone on the spectrum could actually do quite well in a structured, rehearsed setting, such as a talent quest or beauty pageant. They would know exactly what would be expected of them, they would have the chance to “script” their speech, plan their responses on a topic and they would have a tight timetable to adhere to.
True, there would be heightened stress and anxiety due to the occasion itself but there is no reason to suppose that someone with autism could not perform quite well in such a competition, particularly if they were highly motivated to perform and had a strong interest in the area.
4. What did the judges base their decisions on in determining the pageant winners? Did they base their decisions on talent or on what they knew of the competitors? In the article, the promoter does nothing to banish the mother’s suspicion that awards were given more to make children feel good about themselves than given to those with “talent”.
While this is a nice gesture, it certainly does nothing to improve the public standing of these pageants in Australia. More importantly, it does absolutely nothing to progress acceptance of those with special needs in society.
We all want our kids to be judged on their merits. In addition, we all hope our kids are supported, assisted, understood and, hopefully, accepted. In my mind, giving preferential treatment to those with special needs (as opposed to providing reasonable adjustment) not only devalues their “achievement” it also raises resentment in others.
I suspect this was the chief concern of the mother in this story – unfortunately her words were ill-chosen and her response badly reported.
This whole debacle just puts a bad taste in my mouth and makes me feel sorry for everyone involved, particularly the little girl at the centre of it all. I hope, for her sake, she at least enjoyed the competition…
So, that’s what I think about this issue. That’s why I believe autism & beauty pageants don’t mix.
Are you also disturbed by this story? I would love to hear your thoughts…
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