HOUSTON—Should children who’ve barely learned to walk be competing in beauty pageants? With the fake hair, makeup and sometimes skimpy outfits there’s a heated debate about whether parents are taking it too far.
Pageant winner Katlyn Hicks’s family calls her a living doll and say she’s royalty.
“It’s legacy,” said Kelli Kirksey, her grandmother. “She was born into it.”
There are five generations of beauty queens in Katlyn’s family—her mom and grandma are among them.
Katlyn started on the pageant circuit when she was just 6 months old.
“Katlyn likes the stage. She says 'That’s my stage, Nini,'” her grandmother said.
Katlyn has a coach, a seamstress, a hair stylist and a nail tech. She sometimes wears a wig for her pageants. She has more trophies than she can count.
“These trophies, nine times out of 10, are bigger than her,” said her mom Kimberli Browder.
Right before Katlyn takes the stage and flashes her trophy-winning smile, her mom says she gives her a boost.
“I give her candy, the donuts, the sugar, the pop, and stuff like that to get her hyped up,” Browder said.
She’s on the road three weekends out of the month, but despite the travel and beauty regimen, Katlyn’s grandma insists she’s a typical 3-year-old girl.
There’s a heated debate when it comes to toddler beauty queens, but Browder said don’t knock it until you try it.
“I just say to people who have things bad to say about it, just don’t judge, don’t judge us cause we’re in it to win it. You’ll want to try it, trust me,” she said.
Elizabeth Gregory, the director of the women’s gender and sexuality studies program at the University of Houston, disagrees.
“I don’t have to try a lot of things that I have a good sense that would not be helpful, but I’m glad they’re enjoying it,” she said. “For kids, beauty pageants are too soon. They don’t give people the opportunity to figure out who they are as a person and the question is: 'Why do we want to do this? Don’t we have something better to do than watch this?'”
Gregory believes the young girls are over-sexualized and that the experience reinforces the idea that you need to flaunt your body to get attention.
However, Madison Lee, the new Miss Texas teen 2012 says beauty pageants have changed her life for the better.
She started when she was 5 years old.
“Really, it’s taught me to set my goals high and really focus on being the very best that I can possibly be,” she said.
Over the years, the high school senior has won $70,000 in college scholarship money. In her experience she says she’s met girls and young women with poise—true leaders who want to do something with their lives.
Even so, Lee admits, it’s not for everybody.
“I think, especially with the parents, that they need to realize that it needs to be their child’s choice, to compete in the pageant, and it’s like that in any aspect of life,” Lee said.