In an arena of sequin dresses and sparkling smiles, the sport of child beauty pageants is competitive and not without controversy. But one Edmond mother and her daughter are discovering there’s a lot more to it than that.
In the beginning, Lynn Barrett and her daughter Morgan were like many people who watch child beauty pageants on television and feel skeptical or amused. But Morgan, who is 12 years old, was intrigued. “She thought it would be fun,” says Barrett of her daughter’s initial interest and added that before getting into pageants, Morgan had competed in cheer and pom. “She was really looking for something different to do, so we went to our first pageant knowing nothing,” Barrett says.
Morgan won that competition and has since plunged full force into the role of a young beauty queen. This is an undertaking far more complicated than it seems, explains Barrett. The girls must have coaching, practice and, yes, costumes. “It can be costly when you first start, there’s no denying that. It can be as costly as you want to invest,” Barrett says.
Those costs can include local competition entry fees of more than $100 and over $400 for national entry fees. Then there are the dresses and travel expenses. But Barrett views pageants as no different from any other activity a child can get involved in and she works to facilitate the logistics for her daughter. “I know pageant moms get a bad rap and there are some crazy ones out there, but that’s in any sport, and that’s really what this is — pageantry is a sport.”
Barrett says pageants are different from what is portrayed on television and that through Morgan’s participation she has gained not only confidence, but many friends. “Until we were behind the scenes, we watched (TLC show) Toddlers and Tiaras and laughed, ‘look at those crazy people,’ and then we actually did it and we met those people and they are some of the most genuine, caring people that you’ve ever met.”
Barrett cites instances she has witnessed this un-stereotypical behavior and says that the girls will help each other out and cheer one another on. “It wasn’t ‘I hope she trips and falls,’ it’s ‘go, go! Do your best’,” Barrett says. This component of a pageant is part of a lesson that Barrett hopes her daughter learns. “I really hope this will give her the ability to be a very generous winner and a very generous loser, to make friends with people from all different backgrounds and different situations.”
One person well-rehearsed in the lessons of pageantry is Mary Cusick, founder of Fancy Faces, a youth development and pageantry system. Cusick organizes Oklahoma-area pageants, one of which was featured on Toddlers and Tiaras. She can testify to the benefits of participation. “They do gain self confidence,” Cusick says. “It’s good, healthy competition, as long as the parents are in the right state of mind,” she laughs.
Cusick takes measures to make sure her pageants are drama-free and that every child feels accomplished. “Every child gets awards. I try to make sure they get good stuff, have a good time and feel that they have won first place no matter what they might get, because they’re all No. 1,” she says.
Cusick explains that pageants vary in their styles between casual and glitz, which means more formal wear, hair and makeup. She says time is a difficult thing to manage on a pageant day but to lessen the stress, she keeps her pageants local.
In addition to participating in some of Cusick’s pageants, Barrett and her daughter usually travel to one competition a month and the trips offer a unique opportunity for Barrett to bond with her daughter. “We have a lot of fun time together. We have a lot of road trips and that offers a lot of mommy/daughter time,” Barrett says. She is rewarded for these efforts by seeing her daughter enjoy the competition. “There is nothing in the world like seeing your daughter up on stage, shining and having fun and enjoying what she’s doing. It melts your heart,”
Morgan does admit that there can be a great deal of pressure to compete in a pageant concerning practice and backstage preparation, but says that she loves the aspect of competing. “I love the rush of winning, and I do love the crowns,” she laughs.
Both Barrett and Cusick advise those who want to participate to learn about the process from people already involved. Barrett also urges others to have an open mind about pageants and cautions that a parent should make sure it is what the child wants to do.
“This is not for everybody. It needs to be something that your child desires to do, because it’s hard work and it’s a lot of money, but it can be something very fun and very rewarding.”