There is a Should Not

exposing body image issues's picture

By Judith Brisson

The credo there is no should when it comes to the expression of our deepest sexual desires needs to be accompanied by a small caveat writ large - between consenting adults.

The myriad forms of sexual practice pass muster today, at least legally, in most Western nations, reflecting Canada’s Justice Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s attitude, in 1967, when he said

“there is no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”.

That statement introduced an Omnibus bill into the Canadian Parliament legalizing homosexual sex and abortion, and transforming the social countenance of Canada in one fell swoop.

Where there is a should, or better phrased, a should not, is in the realm of the sexual exploitation of children. Recent reports in the media of priests, teachers, principals, or coaches transgressing the sacred line that divides the adult from the child to consummate a sexual relationship indicates that the parameters that delineate these moral distinctions are in flux.

A profound dissonance exists between laws of the land in the US and Canada and cultural mores found in the proliferation of the child beauty pageant. As depicted in Sharie Cookson’s film, “Living Dolls: The Making of a Child Beauty Queen”, pageant inductees undergo hours of priming, primping and prompting in the guiles of the ultra-feminine mystique.  Roughly a quarter million American children participate in 5000 pageants every year, each child trained in the art of the seductive walk, the flirty eye, the bathing suit pose, and bearing the strains of pancake make-up and cumbersome evening wear.

Each of the contestants is subsequently subjected to the “male gaze” and judged according to the same lofty corporate standards that leave most of us on the planet wanting.

Henry Giroux, who cites a study from American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls, states that there is

“a strong connection between young girls who have to endure a premature emphasis on sex and appearance and three of the most common mental health problems of girls and women: eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression.”

While a few authors, such as clinical psychologist Pinsof, identify a strong correlation between participation in child beauty pageants and negative self-esteem and eating disorders, Giroux identifies a more scurrilous association with these kinds of pageants.

Giroux states the

“separation of the issues of child abuse and pedophilia from the cultural practices which encourage the sexualization of young children … is a false one”.

The same societal values which commodify and sexualize children well before their years of sexual maturity are at play in the pageant world as much as in the world of child pornography.

The child beauty pageant industry, like the child porn industry, is a financial giant, producing about five billion dollars in goods and services to the American economy each year.

Some parents invest as much as $10 000 a year to enter a child into a beauty pageant, and some of these little “beauties” are so young, they are not yet able to walk. Yet they don an evening dress, a tiara and scads of stage make-up.

I took a gander at the You Tube extract of the reality TV show called “Toddlers and Tiaras”, and sure enough one of the episodes features the same Swan Brooner as seen in “Living Dolls”. Here we see Swan, who arguably goes along willingly for the ride, spend hours in her day fussing over the details of preparation for the next pageant: perfecting her bathing suit strut and pose, batting her eyes at the judges, rounding off her pseudo pole-dance routine, touching up her make-up and hair – in short all of the training required to produce a vacuous human being devoid of intellectual curiosity or real character and well on her way to devoting her life to becoming eye candy for male consumption.

If I can inject some personal commentary into this argument, I would guess that this phenomenon is one feature that is indicative and symptomatic of the class divide in American culture. In a society devoid of much real opportunity, people resort to the few means at their disposal to get ahead, much like the phenotypically gifted “trailer trash” who, with a few surgical adjustments, skyrocket to stardom on the tails of their new physical accoutrements. Pageant parents resort to similar strategies - even if it means exploiting their own children.

Rather than investing in social infrastructure, such as improving the accessibility of educational opportunities to all sectors of the fabric of American society, the corporate imperative in class divisions is content to mold the feminine identity as a passive receptor of male sexual adulation, ostensibly from the moment of the first steps toddled along a catwalk.

 

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