Concerns over the ‘hyper-sexualisation’ of children has led France to ban children’s beauty contests this week, with a new law that would send organisers and parents to prison for up to two years.
Passed in the Paris Senate on Tuesday night at 196 votes for to 146 against, the new law prevents anyone under the age of 16 from entering into a contest that judges them on their physical appearance.
Those caught entering a child into a beauty contest under the legal age would also face up to €30,000 ($42,800) in fines, as well as imprisonment.
The law was enacted after parliament heard a report authored by French senator, Chantal Jouanna, called 'Against Hyper-Sexualisation: A New Fight For Equality’ which called for under-16s to be banned from beauty contests. This led to the amendment of the original equality bill put forward before the Senate by the women’s minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem.
Further recommendations were made in the report to include a ban on child-size adult clothing such as padded bras and high-heeled shoes – prompted by the controversy over a Vogue fashion spread featuring 10-year-old French model Thylane Loubry Blondeau (pictured above) in heavy make-up, high-heels and skin-tight dresses posing provocatively for the magazine back in 2010 - but these were not included in the bill.
In Australia our exposure to children’s beauty pageants has predominantly come from their increasing presence on our screens through American reality programmes such as Toddlers and Tiaras, Here Comes Honey Boo Boo, and Little Miss Perfect. But in 2011 the American pageant madness reached our shores when the US-based Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant brought its children’s beauty contest, the first of its kind in Australia, to Melbourne.
The pageant prompted Australian children’s welfare activists and psychologists to also call for a law to ban young children from entering beauty pageants.
Their outrage was heard around the country and the fight was taken to online communities, with Facebook groups established to ‘Pull the Pin on Beauty Pageants for Children’. But not all Australians were against the pageants, with hundreds of parents registering their children for the competition as well as running their own online campaign with a Facebook page for ‘Australians Who Love Beauty Pageants’.
Some parents viewed the pageant as harmless fun, a positive experience that would even ‘boost entrant’s self-confidence’. However, Dr Glenn Cupit, senior lecturer in child development at the University of South Australia, was deeply concerned about the sexualisation of children that he saw at the heart of these contests.
Speaking to Fairfax at the time he said, ''If you look at the way the children are dressed and required to act, it's actually a child sexualisation pageant. The children are put into skimpy clothes, they are taught to do bumps and grinds.
''It's not looking at children's beauty. It's a particular idea of what beauty is, which is based on a highly sexualised understanding of female beauty. It's a girl-child beauty pageant.''
The pageant went ahead but at what cost is yet to be seen. The ABC reported in May that the movement has been quietly flourishing since 2011 with five pageants in operation across Australia.
Can we expect a similar culture of orange-tanned toddlers, with fake eyelashes, hair extensions and bedazzled outfits to take root here?
''Let us not make our girls believe from a very young age that their worth is only judged by their appearance,'' said Chantal Jouanno, a senator and former sports minister who introduced the proposal. “Let’s not let commercial interest impact on social interest.”
The new legislation will now be passed to the French lower house National Assembly for further debate.