What the French ban on beauty pageants can teach us
Anyone else totally caught off guard by France’s impressive new legislation banning child beauty pageants? Yeah, me, too.
Because as I much as I adore the country and its people (I lived there for two years in my late twenties and also worked for the French company Club Med), its contemporary pop culture has never struck me as being particularly progressive or feminist.
Take, for example, how the très French General Manager of one of the Club Med resorts I worked at required all the women on staff to wear lipstick in the evenings and would grant early dismissal to female staff members from late night meetings so that we could get “beauty sleep.”
Also, the management team used to organize evening cocktail parties by the pool where female staff members were required to dress in Vegas show girl costumes and stand on pedestals on top of tables with drinks artfully arranged around our feet. Our job? To stand there and look good while guests ooohed and ahhhed over us. And drank.
People (meaning just about everyone) questioned what sort of message this was communicating about how young girls should look and behave.
It just seemed like another example of (what I’ve come to think of as) French voyeurism. Sure, I’m generalizing. France has produced pioneers such as feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir (“One is not born a woman, but becomes one”), but I’m sorry, the Vegas show girl costume.
And then outta nowhere, France makes it a crime to judge any child under the age of sixteen on their physical appearance, which I find pretty groundbreaking, for much of America is still gawking and giggling at Toddlers and Tiaras.
Maybe this will be the much needed kick in the derrière that will get us to realize that, as a culture, we can’t sexualize girls when they are young and then complain/condemn/go mental about their hypersexual behavior when, as young women (I’m looking at you, Miley), they can’t figure out how to act in public.
Audrey D. Brashich is the author of All Made Up: A Girl’s Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype and Celebrating Real Beauty.