For a province that is prone to taking its cues from France on issues like secularism in the public workplace, Quebec has wisely chosen a divergent stance on another thorny topic: child beauty pageants.
While the French parliament recently moved to ban children’s beauty contests in an effort to end what one former minister describes as the hyper-sexualization of young girls, Quebec has taken a less extreme approach of simply expressing strong concern over contests like The Miss All Canadian Pageant, which takes place in November in the Montreal suburb of Laval.
The pageant, in which girls as young as two are judged on “basic modelling skills,” is hardly a shining example of social progress. But Quebec implicitly recognizes that parents, not the government, are the ones responsible for deciding on the wisdom of subjecting their daughters to such contests. In Quebec City, Agnès Maltais, the minister responsible for the Status of Women, acknowledged the government was in no position to legislate the multi-billion dollar pageant industry out of existence.
In contrast, the proposed law in France would ban beauty pageants for children under 16. Anyone who defies the law could be fined close to $40,000 and sentenced to two years in prison. This kind of hardline approach might only succeed in driving these pageants underground.
There is some science that shows beauty pageants can have a detrimental effect on the self-esteem of young girls. One limited study published in 2005 showed former child beauty-pageant participants had higher rates of body dissatisfaction than others. But more research needs to be done, and experts seem to agree that the trouble is not just the pageants: It’s the parents who encourage their daughters to value appearance over character.
In Quebec, more than 43,000 people have signed a petition stating these contests “merely reinforce the broader obsession with body image… Conditioned too early to please, young girls see their parents over-emphasize their appearance.”
But their call to keep child beauty pageants out of Quebec is unrealistic, and it misses the point that parents ultimately have more power to shape their daughters’ self-esteem than any government.