Apparently Autism & Beauty Pageants Don’t Mix…

Photo coutesy Melbourne Australia Beauty Pageant Facebook page

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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32 Responses

  1. Caz says:

    It’s all a bit weird hey. I’m not a fan of kids in beauty pagents – at all. I really don’t understand what motivates parents to take that path!!

    • Kirsty says:

      I don’t really understand either, Caz. It was painful enough for me to endure 2 years of dancing and that only involved 2 concerts a year – thank goodness Matilda Bear decided to take up tennis instead this year, far easier on me, and her!

  2. The whole pageant issue leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I read something just today where a pageant Mum was basically saying all little girls love makeup and pretty clothes and being told they’re beautiful and it made me feel ill.

    I have two daughters (and two sons) and if they grew up thinking their worth was based on how they looked I couldn’t bear it. My big girl loves playing with makeup and dressing up. She’s claimed the tiara from my wedding as her own. She also loves getting muddy and kicking the footy.

    I can’t even weigh in on the autism aspect, because I agree too much with your first point and don’t understand what the mother was trying to achieve. Hopefully a case of poor reporting!

    • Kirsty says:

      I agree Kate. I am not a fan of pageants and was quite bemused by all the fuss that went on last week. I wouldn’t have bothered writing about it but this story was just to much for me. So wrong on so many levels…

  3. Marita says:

    It really is disturbing. I don’t understand the pageant scene at all, let alone for little children.

    • Kirsty says:

      The pageant itself is disturbing and this story is troubling. I really hope the little girl at the centre of this storm gets the support she needs, but sadly I have serious doubts about that…

  4. Maxabella says:

    Bloody awful things, these pageants. You can only assume that the little girl happened to do something at just the right time to catch the judges eye and that was why she won. It really shows how shallow these parades are – based on a fleeting look only.

    That mother was way out of line. What’s her problem!!! x

  5. Debbie says:

    My daughter entered the Melbourne Beauty Pageant, and had an amazing time. True, she loves dressing up in beautiful dresses, having her hair and make up done and then parading around on stage for her minute and a half. She did very well too. We will do more hopefully in the future too. Maybe one every 3 or 4 months. But is that what she sees as her ‘true worth’ Most her weekends are spent at the local Disabled Riding School. Helping with the horses and disabled kids. She comes home stinking and covered in muck. In the summer they sometimes go swimming in the dam at the end of the day. Her dream is to study Occupational Therapy and to open a Residential Riding School for Disabled People using Horses as a means of Therapy. So what is her ‘True Worth’ Maybe she has a higher regard for other people than some of you!
    Just because she enjoys the Pageant system doesn’t mean she spends every waking moment dressed up.
    The reason I looked on this page is my 11 year old son has Autism, I spend a lot of time surrounded by judgemental people who think they know everything about Autism, and here I find myself reading a very judgemental article and responses written by people who think they know everything there is to know about people who enter children in Beauty Pageants. Well you know what, you dont. Just remember these kids have other activites they participate in. Life isn’t all about the pageant, there is a balance that most people can maintain.

    • Kirsty says:

      Debbie, thank you for your comment. It is true, pageants alone do not show someone’s true worth and I appreciate hearing from someone who has real and positive experiences about them. Your daughter sounds wonderful and I hope she achieves all she is aiming for.

      You are right I did pass a judgment on this issue. I have never entered a pageant myself nor has either of my daughters. My eldest daughter did dancing for 2 years and I personally did not enjoy the concerts and the makeup and everything that went with it. She liked the makeup as all little girls do but had other sensory issues (she has recently received an Aspergers diagnosis) so we are having a rest from dancing for the moment.

      As I stated in my post, if she wanted to continue performing in some way I wouldn’t stand in her way, but I personally would not like it. That sounds unreasonable but I do not like the images of little girls looking like little adults. I know most of them are probably enjoying themselves but I would rather my kids find enjoyment in other things. Thank you for showing that balance can be achieved (as you have shown with your daughter) but I will never be a fan – that is just how I feel.

      I wish you all the best and I thank you for presenting a positive view of pageants.

  6. Lucy says:

    Such an intersting post, Kirsty.

    I remember reading about this last year. I am STILL shaking my head over it. But you present a very balanced piece on beauty contests and kids performing…

    Thank you for linking up with the Weekend Rewind.

    • Kirsty says:

      Thanks Lucy, this story really riled me up back in August, particularly as it involved a child on the spectrum. It was one of those posts that basically wrote themselves. Thanks for hosting the rewind in the absence of sisters A, B & C!

  7. I remember that. Not sure what I think – but pretty sure the mother should have saved her comments privately instead of going to the media…(just for the sake of her daughter)
    Lydia C. Lee recently posted..Things I (don’t) know…

    • Kirsty says:

      That’s what i think too – how will her daughter view these comments in the future? What will that do to her self-esteem? It really was such an unnecessary story IMHO…

  8. I entered my firstborn in a couple of baby contests at shopping centres, with a friend who was into that sort of thing.

    I only did a couple because I didn’t like how competitive and OTT it was. Besides, every Mum thinks her bub should win and there is no justice if they don’t!

    Bub won a couple of ribbons – sadly, I was pretty well crippled by PND when #2 came along so I didn’t enter her in any comps. The kids (now 19 & nearly 17) still rib me about it to this day and how to be fair I *should* have made a point of entering both. Sigh. Another bad mummy moment?!
    Janet @ Redland City Living recently posted..Why I Ran Away from the PBEvent

    • Kirsty says:

      It scares me how competitive some parents can be about anything, be it sport, pageants, school and general child development. Personally, I try to avoid all that – it’s much easier that way!

  9. Ugh, beauty pageants. The fact that they include ‘beauty’ in the title is a pretty clear indication of how shallow they are.
    Emma Fahy Davis recently posted..The club nobody wants to join

    • Kirsty says:

      Pageants haven’t really presented themselves well over the years, have they? As Debbie points out, some good can come out of them but I personally would not welcome my children entering them – there are many other ways they can cultivate confidence and healthy esteem.

  10. Ness says:

    Not a fan of beauty pageants at all. There has to be better way of boosting a child’s self esteem than that.
    Ness recently posted..Escape From Boganville: It’s Controversial (Not Really)

  11. I agree with you. I’m just outraged that you haven’t posted the one where you were vlogging whilst driving the car!
    Ed @ The Tunnel recently posted..“Micro candidate” may lead Labor in Opposition

    • Kirsty says:

      Hahaha – the accidentally controversial vlog! It was so innocently done too – it seems I’m not too good at this controversial blogging gig… 😉

  12. Lani says:

    Interesting post and I enjoyed Debbie’s comment too that put a different perspective on it.

    I think the name ‘beauty pageant’ is controversial and outdated. And if they were really judging girls – and are there beauty pageants for boys too? – to make them ‘feel good about themselves’, why all the theatrical outfits and make up?
    Lani recently posted..The homemade fairy

    • Kirsty says:

      I totally agree with you Lani. I think there are so many more positive ways to promote self-esteem and confidence than though beauty pageants which was my point in writing the post…

  13. Jen Hale says:

    I’m not really an advocate of beauty pageants for young children. Save it for when they are older.
    Jen Hale recently posted..Toilet Talk – the one question that needs to be asked!

  14. Tegan says:

    The beauty pageants are a whole different kettle of fish but the mother of the girl kicking up a stink for her daughter winning the best personality just blew me away. What the mother sees as part of her autism, other people could very well see as a cute quirk. I know with my 4 year old there are things that he does that drive me up the wall but friends and family think are adorable.
    Tegan recently posted..Suicide is no joke

    • Kirsty says:

      I know Tegan, that’s what riled me up the most about this story. What was the mother thinking? Where was the support and pride and sense of achievement for her daughter? I just don’t understand her position at all…

  15. I just can’t get my head around the whole beauty pageant for kids thing. Maybe if my daughter had an interest, I would look into it, but she has flitted from ballet to piano and now tennis. I guess she’s just finding what she really loves.
    Thanks for this post Kirsty, I’m not really sure what that mother was thinking, especially when the media is involved. x
    Lisa@RandomActsOfZen recently posted..5 Good Things For You

    • Kirsty says:

      I still don’t understand where the mother was coming from either. I consider the only reason you would enter into one of these things is to encourage self-esteem – this would have produced the very opposite effect in my opinion. Very strange…

  16. I’m not a fan of beauty pageants, I can’t put my finger on why, it just doesn’t sit well with me – not even for adults. I ‘get’ it but I don’t like it. I find it so strange a mum with protest about her child winning something – like you say imagine being that child reading that 🙁 Great controversial post Kirst 🙂
    Emily @ Have A Laugh On Me recently posted..How I got to say BOOM! on national television news!

  1. February 29, 2016

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