Toddlers and Tiaras - The World of Child Beauty Queens

Filed under: In The News

The world of child beauty pageants has always been a heated subject. To some, the notion of dolling up toddlers and little girls like grown women "borders on child abuse," as pointed out by Jane Treays, director of "Painted Babies." But we're fascinated. And those who move within the pageantry circuit, including the families profiled on TLC's Toddlers & Tiaras, insist it is a family-oriented, harmless hobby that instills important qualities like excellence, poise and confidence during such impressionable years.


ParentDish spoke to three pageant mothers -- all proud of their beauty queens, all unapologetic about their decisions to involve their kids in this subculture of Little Miss Sunshines.

Child Beauty Pageant Queens

    Sterling Sisters. Jamie Sterling of Texas has five girls, ages 10 months to six years, all involved in beauty pageants. A devoted, if exasperated, mother, Jamie cherishes the "girly-girl" camaraderie but says she tries to focus on inner beauty first. However, she worries that her own preoccupation with "looking pretty" might eventually send mixed messages. Read on.

    Jeff Curley

    Does it bother you that people are quick to judge pageant families?
    There's a label that families like us think life is all about looks, and that you always have to be beautiful and be all dolled up. But my girls know that they are beautiful to their Daddy and me, and that's all that matters. They understand love and patience and kindness. We focus on real qualities instead of outer appearance. Pictured: Brooklyn Sterling, 10 months.

    Jamie Sterling

    Are you strict about makeup, tanning and diet?
    I don't take them to the tanning salon, but I will use the spray tan and store-bought nails. It's no different than playing dress-up. They love makeup. It sounds weird, but in my crazy world with five kids, all this girly stuff helps me spend time with them instead of burying myself in laundry and housework. I'm so close to them because of these fun things we do together. Pictured: AshLynn Sterling, 6.

    Jeff Curley

    Has anyone ever directly criticized your choice to be a pageant family?
    We just moved from Austin. I mentioned to my new neighbor that my girls have done print modeling. She said, "That's okay, but pageants are just not right." I agreed and moved on. Then one day I needed her help -- we were packing up for a pageant, my husband wasn't there, the credit card was missing and everything went wrong. I had to run next door and tell her the truth. She ended up being sweet; it hasn't bothered our relationship one bit. Pictured: AinsLee Sterling, 2.

    Jeff Curley

    What do you say when your girls don't win?
    It's hard. This idea of winning and losing is a problem lately because one of my twins is excelling more than the other at the pageants. There are times when I don't want to do pageants anymore because I worry it's becoming too hurtful for her. But every parent has to find a way to foster those issues of competitiveness between kids. You have to pick yourself up and keep on going. Pictured: BreAnne Sterling, 6.

    Jeff Curley

    Do you see having five beauty queens when they grow up?
    When they get to the teenage stage, which I'm not looking forward to, I really think they'll understand the importance of internal beauty and they'll make their own choices from there. I do get nervous about the pageants impacting them in a negative or superficial way. Right now they're so innocent, and we have so much fun with it. I know I need to think harder about the future though. Pictured: Sterling girls, Christmas 2008.

    Jamie Sterling

    Haley Burkhardt
    You could say pageantry found 8-year-old Floridian Haley Burkhardt before her mom had a chance to think twice. "People kept saying, 'You have to get her into pageants and modeling!'" said mom Ashlee Burkhardt. "Everyone said she looked like a porcelain doll, and her personality was so happy, upbeat and cute." After winning her first competition at nine months, this brand new world became all they knew. Pictured: Haley at nine months.

    Ashlee Burkhardt

    How have pageants affected her social life?
    She still shies away from some people, but she truly shines on stage. She was the only child at her preschool graduation who could stand up there without running around or fidgeting. She stood there with a smile on her face. Pictured: Haley, 18 months, winning her first Grand Overall at Sweet Pea Pageants.

    Ashlee Burkhardt

    Do the pageants cost you a lot of money?
    You don't need a substantial amount of money to be in pageants. You can spend as much or as little as you want. You can do their hair and makeup and save money. But Haley loves her hairdresser, so she usually wants her with us. The thing is, what you put into a pageant, you can win back. Pictured: Haley, 4, winning Grand Overall.

    Dick Steven Photography

    How do you feel about TLC's "Toddlers & Tiaras?"
    I don't know, but there are a lot of the programs out there to show the bad and not the good. In real life, I haven't come across anyone who's forcing their child to do a pageant or pushing them in the wrong direction. I feel it's very wrongly portrayed usually. There was an episode of "Wife Swap," about a pageant child. They said their kid didn't need to worry about school because she had beauty. My daughter is a straight-A student. We don't have those beliefs at all. Pictured: Haley at Rhinestone Beauty Pageant.

    Ashlee Burkhardt

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.