Part 4 of 4 part series
By Jack McNeel
One contest, the Junior American Indian Beauty Pageant, is for girls from 5 to 13 years old. The American Indian Beauty Contest features young women from 14 to 22. An incredibly difficult job faced the judges, especially in the junior pageant where 98 contestants were entered, any one of which would have been a good choice. But the judges had to settle on just the top three.
There’s a lot of preparation like any beauty pageant. The judging is based half on regalia and half on poise so the mothers and aunties work hard to prepare the girls. Some of the dresses and other regalia have been passed down from several generations while others are new, possibly made just for this event. Hair is combed and braided and ties frequently added. Makeup must be just so. Then there’s the walking and smiling and waving–all that is practiced before watchful eyes and with advice from the adults.
The real problem is having a beauty pageant for girls as young as five. And getting them excited about it at age 1. This is why girls have body-image issues, people. It's why they become anorexic or bulimic. It's why some have sex and get pregnant as teenagers--to prove their worth as women. It's why others become depressed or suicidal--because they can't achieve the "glamorous" life of a beauty pageant winner.
So many levels of foolishness here. Native cultures adopting the white man's ways. Native girls being taught to smile and wave like Barbie dolls. And journalists writing about beauty pageants uncritically.
If you want to recognize Native regalia, great. Have a regalia contest that doesn't depend on hair, makeup, or poise. Honor the children who embody their culture without becoming stereotypical princesses.
For more on beauty pageants, see Miss Universe Canada Finalist in a Headdress and Documentary About Hearing Radmilla.
Below: "Keahna Bill had her makeup applied by Crystal Pond, a Happy Canyon princess from 2006."