France Wants to Ban Child Beauty Pageants

The events are popular in small towns throughout the country, but now the French Senate has passed a measure that would block minors from participating in them

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Oceane Scharre, 10, was elected Mini Miss France 2011. Shown here with Miss France 2011 Mathilde Florin.

France’s Parliament has moved to ban child beauty pageants on the basis that they promote “hyper-sexualization” of minors. The Senate adopted the bill 196 votes to 146 on Tuesday. It will have to pass the National Assembly before becoming law.

Organizers of pageants would face up to two years of jail time and a large fine (about $40,000). In a presentation to Parliament, former Sports Minister Chantal Jouanno said, “Let us not make our girls believe from a very young age that their worth is only judged by their appearance.” Jouanno wrote a report on the hypersexualization of children in 2011.

The debate in France over the sexualization of children began back in 2010 when Vogue featured a spread in which a young girl wore high heels, a tight dress and makeup. Vogue defended the photo shoot saying that it reflected a common fantasy among young girls to dress like their mothers. Critics said that such pictures give the wrong message to kids, encouraging them to think of themselves (or portray themselves to others) as sex objects.

In an interview with CNN, psychologist Wendy Walsh said normalizing behavior that once would have been considered extreme and weird is dangerous: “And now it seems perfectly OK for a little 6-year-old to be walking around in thigh-high boots and short booty shorts and smacking her butt when she dances down a runway? Come on! That’s what a stripper does.”

But proponents of beauty pageants for youngsters argue that, if executed correctly, the pageants can inspire confidence. “Society is too quick to judge something they are not familiar with,” Valerie Best, director of the BEST Shining Star Pageant in Southern Indiana, told CNN. “A pageant (run) properly is no different than a young girl competing in gymnastics, a school function or anything else that has a score kept or judged upon. Teach these girls to be strong, confident individuals and see how far they go in life.”

Pageants are popular in small towns throughout France, though French pageants fall short of those in the U.S. in terms of both frequency and intensity. France also has no equivalent reality shows about young contestants like the American shows “Toddlers & Tiaras” or “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo.” The immense popularity of these shows has French politicians scared that the same thing might happen in their country.

“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,” Jouanno said Wednesday after the vote. “We are fighting to say: What counts is what they have in their brains.”