French Senate votes to ban young beauty pageants
French lawmakers fear 'destructive' contests could grow to extremes of US and other countries and vote to curb youngsters being sexualised
Facing growing concern over the "hypersexualisation" of young girls, the French upper house of parliament has voted to end beauty pageants for those younger than 16.
The proposed ban now goes to the lower house, the National Assembly, for debate and a vote.
Pageants are popular in towns across France, though far less frequent and intense than in other parts of the world.
Still, the focus on beauty here, combined with a surge of images of sexualised, prepubescent girls, has raised fears that the pageants could take on the over-the-top quality of contests in the US and elsewhere.
"It is extremely destructive for a girl between the age of 6 and 12, to hear her mother say that what's important for her is to be beautiful," said Chantal Jouanno, a senator and champion of the ban.
"We are fighting to say: What counts is what they have in their brains."
Jouanno wrote a report on the "hypersexualisation" of children in 2011.
The report was commissioned in response to public outrage over a photo display in Paris Vogue that featured young girls in sexy clothes and postures, with high heels, make-up and painted fingernails.
France has a number of contests that parents can enrol their children in online. Two, Mini Miss and Graines de Miss (Miss in the Making), have annual beauty pageants of more than 20 contestants, ages 6 to 13, in various cities.
Some pageants prohibit bathing suit competitions and advertise the contests with photos of little girls dressed up more like fairy-tale princesses than as youthful femmes fatales.
The 2011 winner of Mini Miss, Ociane Scharre, wore a white gown, but with her crown askew and little obvious make-up.
Opponents protested that the penalties were too severe: up to two years in prison and a US$40,000 fine for anyone who "helps, encourages or tolerates" children's participation in the contests.
Some pageant organisers said they were frustrated by the suggestion that they were corrupting girls.
Maud Chevalier, who started Graines de Miss, barred young candidates from wearing heels over 3.5cm high, short dresses, wigs, make-up and swimsuits.
"I wanted to organise a contest which respected the child," Chevalier said. The ban showed how "misinformed people are about beauty contests".
"They think that children parade on stage to look like Barbie.
"In our contests girls are princesses for a day, they make friends with others," she said.