Further child beauty pageants planned

Three more events in pipeline as Senators debate motion to ban the pageants

Phoebe McCallan (left), overall winner, and Bryony Way (8) with their mothers Hayley Way and Michelle Watts, all from Portsmouth, England, at the Universal Royalty pageant, which was held at Corrigan’s pub in Castleblayney. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Phoebe McCallan (left), overall winner, and Bryony Way (8) with their mothers Hayley Way and Michelle Watts, all from Portsmouth, England, at the Universal Royalty pageant, which was held at Corrigan’s pub in Castleblayney. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Wed, Mar 5, 2014, 18:22

A controversial US child beauty pageant could be making its return to Ireland later this year.

Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant made headlines last year when it was forced to host its first Irish event in a pub in Co Monaghan last September after a number of venues opted out.

Despite the backlash, the Texas-based organisers remain undeterred as they are planning to host three more “free” child beauty pageants here in 2014, in venues in Dublin, Cork and Belfast.

According to the Universal Royalty website, the Irish events are provisionally scheduled for September 20th this year.

A motion to ban child beauty pageants will be heard in the Seanad later this evening. The motion has been proposed by the Independent Group of Senators claiming that child beauty pageants have no place in Ireland.

Last year, the French Senate voted to ban beauty pageants for children under 16, to prevent young girls being sexualised too early.

Anyone who enters a child into such a contest would face up to two years in prison and a € 30,000 fine. The measure was prompted by controversy in 2010 over a Vogue magazine photo shoot that featured provocative images of a ten-year-old French girl. The girl, Thylane Loubry Blondeau, and two others were photographed with wearing heavy makeup, high heels and adult dresses.

Just last month, Russian MPs proposed a similar ban on child beauty pageants, which could lead to tough fines for parents or guardians who allow their children to participate.

Last year, organisers’ plans were scuppered when their first choice venue The Bracken Court in Balbriggan decided to pull the plug on the event.

Universal Royalty chiefs were then faced with added media attention as they tried to secure an alternative venue, which they only managed to find a few hours before the event was set to take place.

In the end, less than half of the 75 children who had been booked to take part, turned up at Corrigan’s Kitchen, a pub and restaurant in Castleblayney, Co Monagahan.

Competitors aged from eighteen months to fourteen years of age competed in a beauty, talent and an “Irish theme wear” round. The overall winner of the competition, Phoebe McCallan, had travelled from the UK to take part.

Annette Hill of Universal Royalty has previously rejected accusations of sexualising children, and said that organisers discourage the use of makeup on younger participants.

However, Universal Royalty have already requested the services of a hair and makeup artist for the Irish dates on their Twitter page.

According to its web site, Universal Royalty offers modelling lessons for contestants “of any age”, and a photo retouching service with options for enhancing eyelashes and removing blemishes.

Opposition is mounting against the beauty pageants.

A Facebook group ‘No thank you to the US Kids beauty pageant planned for Belfast in 2014’ has over 1,600 likes.

A post on the Facebook page says “We are taking a firm stand against the news that a US child pageant company is planning to hold a beauty contest [for children] as young as 18 months old in our city.”

Universal Royalty seemed undeterred by last year’s frosty reception in Ireland and posted a status on their page in January which read “Ireland contestants, I am getting your emails, messages and tweets. Thanks for the LOVE! Eden Wood will be with Universal Royalty Beauty Pageant as well.”

Eden Wood, is an American child actor, singer and dancer who rose to fame when she was featured as a child beauty queen on US reality television series Toddlers and Tiaras.

The show, which follows the families of child contestants, has drawn criticism after one mother was shown padding out her daughter’s chest to resemble Dolly Parton’s.

Another clip shows a mother feeding her daughter “go go juice” – a mixture of caffeinated Red Bull and Mountain Dew.

Senator Jillian Van Turnout said that that every effort must be made to protect children against sexualisation.

“If we need to legislate on child beauty pageants being held in Ireland then we will legislate. I believe legislation is a sledgehammer approach and hope it will not be needed,” she said.

Ms van Turnhout said she has received a wealth of correspondence, particularly from parents who are opposed to child beauty pageants taking place in Ireland

“You’re actually saying to a child; dress up, look pretty and you’ll get places in life. That’s not a message we should be sending to any child,” she said.

Universal Royalty have yet to respond to request for comment from The Irish Times .