High Glitz: The Extravagant World of Child Beauty Pageants
Style writer Simon Doonan’s foreword starts out High Glitz: The Extravagant World of Child Pageants. Doonan feels that beauty pageants geared for children are no more exploitative or harmful than cheerleading or little league. He writes that children learn endurance, losing gracefully, and social skills. It also gives them exercise and breaks from the tedium of childhood.
However, early on Doonan mentions he has never actually experienced the pageant world. Even if he had, undoubtedly child beauty pageants are a different experience for female children then for adult males. While Doonan paints an envious picture of pageant life from an outsider’s point of view, he still admits he can’t see contestants going on to the fame and glory for which their mothers aspire.
Interestingly enough, in his introduction for High Glitz, Robert Greene, another admitted outsider to the pageant world, chose to mention long suspected pedophile Lewis Carroll. Greene never mentions any outright connections to his, but instead he mentions Carroll because of his "appreciation" of young girls, and his observations of how they liked to dress up and be photographed. Greene’s point appears to be that pageants are healthy for little girls because dressing up gives them a sense of personal power and is an adequate form of play. Personally, I’ve seen too many cranky kids on episodes of Toddlers and Tiaras _and _Little Miss Perfect to believe Greene’s point, but he presents it in such a clear straightforward way, it very well could be believable.
Finally, we get to Susan Anderson’s book. Anderson, unlike Doonan and Greene, is very involved in the pageant world, as she has been photographing contestants for three years. Anderson writes in a journalistic style that gives the reader an inside look at this strange pocket of our culture, but unfortunately we don’t get to see very much. Anderson doesn’t write a lot, and instead, lets her photographs speak for her.
The photos are all of girls between the ages of a few months to thirteen years; all look more glamorous, more grown up, and more downright sexy than I did at my senior prom. Some of these girls still look precious, like elaborate child Madame Alexandra dolls, while some of them look eerie, like ageless collectible figurines symbolizing "true" beauty; all of the girls have a look of no longer being completely human. I also can’t help but notice how few children of color are featured.
The images are frightening: girls as young as three are making attempts at showing cleavage, endlessly exposing midriffs, and squeezing into super short skirts. What skeeves me out the most are the images of young girls holding stuffed animals, as their fancy dresses ride up around their waists. Many of these girls do look happy, but from watching many specials on this subject, I know many of these mothers pay money for coaching. I would have preferred to see quotes from the girls themselves about what they think of their clothes and situations, how they feel being dressed in ways, even as a teenager, I would never have been able to leave the house in. This coffee table book, unfortunately, does not shed much light on the pageant world for the genuinely curious.