Little Miss Thong: the Colombian bikini contest for six-year-olds

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 Photo: Semana

Bikini clad contestants sashay down the catwalk, stopping every now and then to wiggle their hips in time to the thumping dance music. The crowd clap and cheer their encouragement. One girl, removes a wrap from her hips and waves it in the air, another blows a kiss to the audience.

This is "Miss Tanguita" or "Little Miss Thong" – a bikini pageant in Barbosa, Colombia. What's wrong with this picture? Well, Some of the contestants participating are only six years old.  

The pageant (which is aimed at six to 10 year olds) is a spin off event from Barbosa's annual "Miss Thong" bikini contest, which is part of a three-day river festival. Although all of the contestants in the "Little Miss Thong" needed parental consent, the event has attracted a huge backlash on social media.

Colombians took to twitter to express their outrage claiming that the contest is exploiting the young girls taking part by overtly sexualizing them. "For starters, the name little miss thong is incompatible with childhood," tweeted Vanessa de la Torre a Colombian TV news host.

"This is f**cked up. Not cool. We should protect our little ones from sexual exploitation. Not encourage it," said a YouTube commenter.

Cristina Plazas, head of Colombia's child protective services, condemned the pageant tweeting, "The Miss Tanguita contest violates the rights of children! We will bring up charges against organizers, parents and sponsors," and has since lodged a formal complaint with Colombia's Attorney General.  

Barbosa Mayor Maryury Galeano, says that the contest encourages girls to be healthy and respect their bodies and rejects claims that the event was sexually exploiting children.

"I'm not inducing any children here into prostitution…all those who entered the contest had consent from their parents," she told a local radio station.

"We are simply promoting the defense of the body, of body care. It is giving the children the importance they deserve - letting them be included in all cultural and sports activities," Galeano said.

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But while it seems Galeano's intentions were good, there is a lot of research that shows beauty pageants and bikini contests can be very damaging to young girls. Psychological therapist Annie Gurton says that the main problem is that the girls taking part are being blatantly judged on their looks.

"If a young girl gets the idea that how she looks matters so much, it is no surprise that she will later go on to develop psychological issues. Whether she wins or loses, the effects can be psychologically dramatic," Gurton explains.

Gurton notes that there is evidence that links beauty pageants with child abuse and sexually orientated behavioral problems. "Girls who participate in beauty pageants frequently experience self-esteem, body image and self-worth issues in their teens and early adulthood.

"It is common to see girls struggling with dieting, eating disorders, obsessions and ideals of perfection, which can, if left untreated with psychotherapy, last well into adulthood if not the rest of their lives," she says.

The effects of beauty pageants and bikini contests are overwhelmingly negative, but are there any benefits to taking part? Gurton doesn't think so. "It is hard to find anything good and worthy in the process," she says.

If the backlash against this particular contest is anything to go by, it would appear that many Colombians are in agreement. Perhaps this is the beginning of the end of bikini contests like "Little Miss Thong."