Feature

Is it time to ban child beauty pageants?

France probably will. Some say the U.S. should be next.

After Tuesday night's 197-146 Senate vote, France is on the verge of banning all beauty pageants for children under the age of 16 in an effort to curb the "hypersexualization" of youth.

"Don't let us all allow our girls to believe from an early age that their only value is their looks," Chantal Jouannao, a former sports minister who introduced the ban as part of a bill on gender equality, told The Guardian. "Lawmakers are not moralizers, but we have a duty to defend the superior interest of the child."

The ban must go through the lower house of Parliament before it officially becomes a law, but should it pass, it will come with some very harsh penalties. Under the proposed legislation, anyone who violates the ban, including pageant organizers and parents, will face up to two years in prison and about $40,000 in fines.

The origin of the bill reportedly stemmed from a controversy surrounding a photo spread in a December 2010 issue of French Vogue featuring young girls in "heavy make-up and wearing tight dresses, high heels and expensive jewelry," according to BBC News. In fact, French legislators stopped just short of approving a measure that would have banned anyone under the age of 16 from modeling.

Beauty pageants are facing their own share of controversy in the United States — for example, you can't unsee a 3-year-old dressed as Julia Roberts' prostitute character in Pretty Woman. So will a ban on little miss beauty queens hit this side of the Atlantic any time soon?

Hopefully so, writes Priten Shah at PolicyMic. "This proposal is a step in the right direction, not only for the French, but for western culture as a whole," he writes. "Although using legal means to secure cultural change might seem overreaching, it is an effective tool when no other alternative appears viable to safeguard the security of our children."

Others agree:

But others find the ban excessively severe. "It's a lovely sentiment, but let's put things in perspective," writes Tracy Clark-Flory at Salon. "Anyone who ignores the law could face two years in prison and a fine of 30,000 euros." Moreover, the bill itself lacks nuances. "[It] doesn't distinguish between types of pageantry, either," she says. "It's simply a ban on child pageants, period."

Kat Stoeffel at The Cut points out that beauty pageants aren't nearly as pervasive or popular in France as they are here. Could this law, in fact, be a sideswipe at tacky Americans? "This seems like yet another pedantic demonstration of France's cultural superiority," writes Stoeffel.

But even if France has "cultural superiority," at least we will have Toddlers and Tiaras.

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