No Honey Boo Boos in France: Parliament moves to ban kiddie pageants

September 21, 2013

AP – Oceane Scharre, 10, Mini Miss France 2011, sits with Miss France 2011 Mathilde Florin.

PARIS — Chantal Jouanno is my new hero.

Thanks to Nicolas Sarkozy’s former sports minister and her report “Against Hyper-Sexualization: A New Fight for Equality,” the French Parliament has moved to ban beauty pageants for children under 16. The Senate adopted the bill by 196 votes to 146 this week. It must now be passed by the National Assembly in November before becoming law. Under the measure, an amendment to a law on women’s rights, beauty pageant organizers could face up to two years in prison and a fine of 30,000 euros ($40,000).

It’s worth noting that pageants are not huge here. Contests are indeed held, mostly in smaller towns, but they are not nearly as intense as what we see in American shows such as Toddlers and Tiaras.

But still.

The French, not known for being prudes, have drawn the line at sexualizing children. When Vogue published photos in 2010 of a heavily made up little girl wearing skintight clothing, heels and expensive jewelry, with her tiny little lips all puckered up, France was outraged.

While the magazine insisted that it only wanted to portray young girls’ fantasies of being like their mothers, many in France didn’t buy it. Especially Jouanno, who’s been trying to ban the “Mini-Miss” contests since 2011.

“It is extremely destructive for a girl between the ages of 6 and 12 to hear her mother say that what’s important for her is to be beautiful,” Jouanno said in the New York Times. “We are fighting to say: What counts is what they have in their brains.”

I wish this type of thinking would catch on more widely.

I have daughters, and I would never put them in child pageants because I agree with Jouanno when she says, “I have a hard time seeing how these competitions are in the greater interest of the child.”

It is impossible for me to watch television shows like “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” and not cringe. Girls need to be taught the importance of self-esteem, confidence and beauty— both inside and out. Not beauty based solely on false eyelashes, princess dresses and high-heeled shoes.

My sincere hope is that now that France has led the way, the United States will be next to ban children’s beauty pageants. Yes, I know that not all pageants are horrible, and I realize that not every pageant contestant is Honey Boo Boo. But how about highlighting brilliant examples of brains and beauty? More attention needs to be given to Web sites such as A Mighty Girl, or organizations such as Girls with Confidence, which helps young girls gain self-esteem through fun and creative workshops.

And then there are examples of amazing individuals.

Take Margo Gianos, a 12-year-old entrepreneur who lives in Oklahoma. Margo came up with ideas for starting her own business before she was even out of elementary school. Her mother Irene (a successful blogger and business woman in her own right) encouraged Margo to live out her dreams. She combined her love for beauty and business and launched Honestly Margo, her own line of lip balms.

I asked this straight-A student what she thinks of the French ban on child pageants. “I do not love beauty pageants. They make girls feel bad about themselves rather than loving who they are and their own beauty,” she replied via e-mail.

“Being an entrepreneur, it’s more of who I am. You work, and it grows. You can see your goal and develop it into something much more. It doesn’t end. With a beauty pageant, once you achieve your goal of winning, that’s the end, it’s over and done. And if you don’t win, you haven’t achieved your goal. With business, it may not always work out but you just have to keep trying.”

Out of the mouth of babes.

Thanks Madame Jouanno for taking the lead to end these contests. And I hope the National Assembly will pass the measure for good.

Beauty pageants, who needs them? I say, toss the tiaras, we need more Margos.

Priscilla Lalisse-Jespersen is the editor and founder of Prissy Mag, an Anglophone Webzine about life in Paris as an expat, and the author of “Stockdale” and “Next of Kin.” Find her page on Facebook.

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Ruth Tam | September 20, 2013