What are Little Miss Pageants

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little miss sunshine pose
Not every pageant gal takes herself so seriously
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Little miss pageants are about more than glitz and tiaras

In the United States, Little Miss Pageants are a platform where girls under the age of 18 compete for title, trophies and scholarships. The categories they compete in range from best hair and best smile, to fun talent portions, including dancing ballet, singing and playing an instrument. Parents and children considering entering one of these events may want to peak behind the curtain to get a better idea of what they're all about.

A Little History

Curious to know more? Let's take a look at the origin of child competitions. Beauty contests as we know they today started in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1921 as a means to draw more tourists, but they were limited to adult women. The Little Miss events didn't begin until the 1960s. At first, competitions for younger girls were aimed at teenagers, but it wasn't long before the spotlight expanded to include little girls in sparkly gowns. 

What goes on in front of and behind the curtain largely depends on which pageant you enter. Some systems take a natural approach, while others are all about the glitz. On average, girls and boys who enter these events spend less than two hours total competing, and many weeks practicing beforehand.

Natural V.S. Glitz

Almost every state has its own competition with many smaller ones throughout the year. Those that take a natural approach differentiate themselves from the controversial glitz pageants you see on reality television. Natural events want kids to look like the kids they are so they don't allow makeup, glitter or false teeth. 

Children compete in these contests for many reasons, the most common one being the chance to win a college scholarship. Other girls are encouraged to enter by parents who hope competing will give them more confidence and an opportunity to socialize outside of school. At the local level, many natural competitions even encourage contestants to do a few hours of community service, according to one article in The Telegraph.


Critics of pageants argue that they teach young girls they wrong types of lessons, placing too much emphasis on physical beauty. If you feel hesitant about entering your child in a contest, call up some of the parents of former contestants to find out what the experience was like for them.

When speaking with parents who already know the world of Little Miss Pageants, ask them how much participation really costs. Natural competitions tend to be more affordable because they don't entail hair stylists or nearly as many outfits like high-end gowns. Most do have a registration fee with proceeds often going to a scholarship. Others charge a fee for every event entered.


Little Miss Pageants are a growing industry across the United States. While not every girl can walk away with a first place sash, they all gain the shared experience of taking a risk, and going after a goal. Some argue that not winning can teach kids a valuable life lesson, but others maintain this is a lesson they don't need to learn in childhood at such impressionable development stages.

The best way to find out about the nuts and bolts of these competitions is to attend one. Sit in the audience to get a feel for the people involved. Do you sense a positive vibe from the judges and contestants? Does your child look eager to hop on stage herself? You can always dip your toe by entering a small competition and go from there.

Another way to assuage your doubts is to sit down with your little one and watch the classic movie Little Miss Sunshine. You'll have some laughs and see how one family took on the pageant world without taking themselves too seriously. 

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