Little girls wanting to be sexy, which can interrupt the natural flow of age and social development, warps and compromises the girls' psycho-sexual development, according to Kendrick, which can lead to problems in later stages of child and adulthood.
Parents pitting girls against one another and saying "May the prettiest win" sets them up for a future where they believe success, prizes and positive attention will only come if they are the prettiest and act in a sexy manner, Kendrick said of child beauty pageants and their effect on young girls.
"At its core it is teaching girls that the best thing (they) can do, and the most attention they can get is to view (themselves) as an assemblage of body parts," Kendrick said. "And that you will focus on drawing attention to those body parts sets them up for all manner of problems in their lives — self-esteem, eating disorders, relationships they enter into."
Of those involved in reality shows about the world of child beauty pageants, like TLC's "Toddlers and Tiaras" Kendrick said, "Unfortunately these kids are not at all being helped by being filmed ... they are not only just pageant girls, they are TV stars and the pressure is excessive."
The role of parents
"Pageant society focuses on flaws and our society builds on that. We have to teach girls they can own their strength and adhere to their standards," Silverman said. "It is important to teach that kind of language ... if you are trying to teach them to feel good about themselves, you can not be cutting yourself down. We have to watch the negative terms we refer to."
Silverman believes there are a couple of ways in which parents can help children develop healthy self-esteem and worth, including media literacy and rules on communication in the home.
"I think it's really important that kids get involved in media literacy, at an early age for girls. You can look at catalogs and point out positive images and negative images," Silverman said. "They need to have the language and understand what is in the media has been altered by a lot of different vehicles."
Silverman has noticed when girls are informed about deceptions in the media they often become angry and want to fight back against it. Understanding the messages media is sending often leads to healthier views of self and worth for young girls.
"It's important for girls to be able to speak about themselves in a strength-based manner so they are saying what they are good at and what others are good at," Silverman said.
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