Do toddlers in tiaras belong in the golden garden?

AS if we hadn’t enough to bother us, along comes the child beauty pageant controversy, and the nation is transfixed by another irritating sideshow which we say we don’t want, but which we can’t take our eyes off either. We don’t want our children’s precious childhood stolen by a multi-billion dollar US racket, but we don’t mind if others’ kids are exploited for our entertainment. I wish we were like France and could say ‘non’ with a bit of conviction.

AS if we hadn’t enough to bother us, along comes the child beauty pageant controversy, and the nation is transfixed by another irritating sideshow which we say we don’t want, but which we can’t take our eyes off either. We don’t want our children’s precious childhood stolen by a multi-billion dollar US racket, but we don’t mind if others’ kids are exploited for our entertainment. I wish we were like France and could say ‘non’ with a bit of conviction.

Anyway, the promoters had to go to Monaghan to find a venue for the unpalatable contest, so maybe we’re not as hypocritical as we sometimes sound. But Paddy Kavanagh must have been turning in his grave.

Unfortunately, the issue has become a bit of a diversion, at a time when we should be concentrating on more pressing problems. The sad thing is that long before this beauty pageant controversy raised its ugly head, we had already given up on the concept of childhood. The age of reason now begins at birth, when we have to enrol the kids in a school or risk them missing out on an education. I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but the proverbial miserable Irish childhood seems like a walk in the park compared to what kids have to endure today. If we’re not stuffing them with burgers and crisps and forcing them to watch endless TV cartoons, we’re hot-housing them in centres for gifted children and dosing them with omega oils guaranteed to increase brain power. Oh, that may be a bit hyperbolic. But you know what I mean!

Now we have to deal with the threat of the child beauty pageant and its effects on the welfare of the nation – particularly on little girls. This insidious development is being foisted on us by some of the less salubrious aspects of American culture. Why do they always insist on foisting their culture on others, anyway? Of course, when it comes to American culture in general, we, unlike the French, have never been very good at countering it, or its influences, so I wouldn’t hold my breath that Frances Fitzgerald will be able to stop this development, however well meaning her intentions may be.

Now, I have to be careful what I say about child beauty pageants, seeing that the promoters have twisted the mild public outrage which greeted their first venture in this country and are now accusing the media of “sexualising” the concept of clean, innocent fun.

Fun? Being sprayed with fake tan, being smeared with buckets of make-up and being fitted with hair extensions and fake nails, before being forced to perform tittilating poses in front of smarmy judges and a gormless adult audience can hardly be a barrel of laughs for any three, four or five year old. How they must feel when someone else takes the tiara, doesn’t bear thinking about. I wish one of them somewhere would abandon the nauseatingly cutesy script and throw a good old fashioned childish tantrum, before grabbing the tiara and throwing it with whatever force her tiny body could muster, straight at the nearest judge. Only then would I accept that she hasn’t been damaged, or hasn’t had her childhood stolen by an exploitative beauty pageant industry. Now, I suppose I’ll be accused of inciting toddlers to violence.

Meanwhile, we can criticise childhood beauty pageants all we want, but the ground is well prepared here for the advance of the nasty business. Our kids are well used to being made up like adults. You’d find nearly at much fake tan at a First Holy Communion ceremony now as you’d find at any infant beauty pageant anywhere, and hair extensions on moppets are nothing compared to the elaborate wigs that tiny Irish dancers are encouraged to wear at feiseanna around the country. I don’t know if it has any affect on their self esteem, but if nothing else it will surely make them cringe with embarrassment when they look back on it in years to come. As far as culture is concerned, I suppose none of us can be too smug, because you never know when your culture is going to be hijacked. I mean the child beauty pageant in Monaghan last week-end had Irish dancing among the talents on display. Thank God, at least the hurling seems safe from the clutches of the child beauty promoters, but you can never know.

Other national institutions are threatened however. One of the little girls who took part in the country’s first juvenile beauty pageant here, told a Late Late Show audience that she wanted to enter the Rose of Tralee when she grows up. The Festival of Kerry committee was probably appalled. But they’re not averse themselves to using little girls in their annual celebration of Irish womanhood, with the recent introduction of ‘rosebuds’. Although, thankfully those children are not exposed to the full glare of publicity.

Whatever about the threat to our culture, we need to respect childhood again, and restore what the above mentioned Paddy Kavanagh described as “the golden garden that was childhood’s”. We could start by volunteering to take the fake tan and the make-up off the First Communion agenda and dumping the hideous Irish dancing wigs.