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Parents in South Carolina are up in arms after their kids were encouraged to compete in a beauty pageant at their elementary school. Though organizers insist that it's no different from a sporting event or a dance contest, outraged parents say that schools have no business judging kids based on their looks.
"Come be the first Warrior King or Warrior Queen of Indian Land Elementary! Represent your school all year long during school events!" the flier read. "Contestants will be judged on facial beauty, personality, and overall appeal."
According to the three-page flier, prizes would be awarded at the October 20th pageant for "Best Eyes," "Best Hair," "Best Smile," "Best Dressed," and "Most Beautiful," which would be "based upon the contestant's facial beauty score only." Boys and girls could also submit photos to win additional awards, and could collect signatures to vie for the "Sweetheart" title. The flier included instructions on how to walk, turn, and pose for the judges.
Read on to learn more about beauty pageants in elementary schools.
"Trying to develop good self esteem in children is hard enough without something like this being pushed at their school," wrote Nita Buck of Rock Hill, South Carolina, a retired teacher whose grandchild attends Indian Land Elementary School.
"This is not 'Honey Boo Boo Child.' This is not 'Toddlers and Tiaras.' This is an opportunity for the children to come up, shine, and be themselves on stage," Tracy Hyland, who helped organize the event, told WBTV.
"As a parent, watching my child go across the stage, it's wonderful," added Hyland, a national certified pageant judge who has been involved in pageants with her daughter for 20 years. "Let's think about the other activities children do—football, dance, soccer, swimming, ice-skating—all of those things are judged."
Hyland said that the pageant—which could cost more than $100 for a contestant and a parent to attend—was supposed to raise funds to buy "surprise" playground equipment for the school. The flier does not describe the event as a fundraiser and does not mention how the money would be spent. The school's principal, Beth Blum, told Yahoo! Shine that Hyland was not affiliated with Indian Land Elementary School.
"I don't know her at all," Blum said. Though she normally checks out any information that members of the community want to send to parents, in this particular case, the flier was printed and brought to the school for distribution without Blum having approved it. "It got by us," she told Yahoo! Shine.
When parents saw the flier in their children's backpacks on Friday, they were outraged. Jessica Champagne launched a Change.org petition, calling on Indian Land Elementary School to distance itself from the beauty pageant. (Though the event was in the school's name, it was to take place at a nearby church, with early registration held in the school's parking lot.)
"We live in a society where 6-year-olds have eating disorders and distorted body image issues. This kind of event feeds directly into these types of insecurities and the vapid idea that beauty is paramount to a person's value and self-worth," she wrote in her petition, which has 140 signatures. "We should not be teaching young children, who are in the process of developing their own social mores, memes and hierarchies that it is acceptable to judge people based on their looks. This event contradicts the values we teach our children and should NOT be sanctioned by the school."
Jessica Dodson, who started a Facebook page protesting the pageant, told the Charlotte Observer that her daughter came home in tears because she didn't think she was pretty enough to enter the contest, let alone win it.
"That they would base the criteria of choosing the Indian Land king and queen on facial beauty, it was horrific and a little bit revolting," Dodson, a mother of five, told NBC News in Charlotte.
Early Saturday morning the school's principal, Beth Blum, sent out an email saying that the pageant had been cancelled, triggering a second wave of discussion among parents.
"My kids go to this school...1st, 3rd, and 5th grades," Kristi Westphal wrote a local news station's Facebook page. "I never once got a letter about a beauty pageant until today when I received a cancellation email. Who knew!?! I don't agree with it at all, though."
Lancaster County School District representative David Knight told WSOC-TV that the district was not involved with the pageant plan.
"The district doesn't sanction this, did not organize it, none of that," Knight said. "All we do is what we usually do when a community event is going on for kids, we try to help publicize it by sending out flyers."
Some people have suggested that the school revamp the event into a talent contest. Others told NBC News in Charlotte that they were angry about the cancellation and are working on a petition to bring the pageant back.
"As the mother of two girls I see nothing wrong with a pageant," Melissa Rosenbaum of Indian Trail, South Carolina, posted on Facebook. "I don't think it sends a message that isn't already put out there by every media outlet. If your kids can't be secure enough to put themselves out there then don't let them go. Don't ruin something for everyone else. Disappointment is a fact of life; it is how you teach them to deal with it that matters. Grow up people."
What do you think? Should elementary schools hold beauty pageants?
— Lylah M. Alphonse
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