The French government has taken a step toward saying non to beauty pageants for girls younger than 16. Earlier this week, the upper house of Parliament voted in favor of banning such contests as part of a larger bill on women's rights.
Under the proposed law, anyone found guilty of organizing or entering a child in such a pageant would face up to two years in prison and fines of up to $40,000. The measure now goes to the lower house of Parliament.
"It is extremely destructive for a girl between the age of 6 and 12 to hear her mother say that what's important for her is to be beautiful," said Chantal Jouanno, the senator and former sports minister who sponsored the ban. "We are fighting to say what counts is what they have in their brains."
Debate over child beauty pageants rages on in places like Australia, which held what's described as its first U.S.-style child beauty pageant in 2011. Quebec, Belgium and Britain also are considering bans on the same grounds as the proposed French law: to prevent girls from being hypersexualized.
The French, says NPR's Eleanor Beardsley, view Mini-Miss pageants, as they're known in France, as a sordid offshoot of American culture.
But it was actually outrage in America over photos in a French magazine that led, in part, to the proposed anti-pageant measure. In December 2010, French Vogue published a photo spread that featured a heavily made-up, provocatively dressed 10-year-old model. It sparked controversy in France — after the U.S. media caught wind and publicized it nearly nine months later.
That's more than a bit ironic, considering that in the United States, child, or glitz, beauty pageants are big business — to the tune of $5 billion. Reality TV shows such as Toddlers & Tiaras and its spin-off, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, have also capitalized on American audiences' (morbid?) fascination with the glitz pageant world — routinely winning the ratings race for their time slots and making "stars" out of the pint-size princesses with outsized personalities.
But far from all Americans are smitten — or even entertained — by the phenomenon. Take, for instance, Oscar-winning American actor Tom Hanks' biting spoof of Toddlers & Tiaras, which made the rounds in 2011. It's still worth a watch.
And the obsession with beauty — and pageants — extends beyond U.S. borders. Venezuela, second only to the U.S. in Miss Universe titles, has its own robust pageant industry, including schools to train the littlest beauty queen wannabes. It's enough to make this mama sad — and mad.