Child Beauty Pageants in Ireland

by Maureen Considine: published in the Cork Independent in November 2013

In December 2010 French Vogue published a series of highly-sexualised and adultified photographs of a 10-year-old girl, Thylane Loubry Blondeau. On the cover the child was lying on a bed of leopard print cushions wearing a gold lamé dress with a plunging v-neckline, large gold jewellery and high stilettos. This 10 year old girl was covered in fake tan and make-up designed to make her to look like an adult. French Vogue claimed the concept was one of girls innocently playing dress up. The French people were not fooled by attempts to justify these images and the public outrage about this and the popularity of child beauty pageants led to calls for legislation to protect children from adultification and sexualisation.

In September 2013 the French government passed legislation banning child pageants and imposing penalties of up to 30,000euro and two years jail time for those who defy the ban. Also in September, the Irish public rallied against the idea of a ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’ style pageants being held in Dublin. The public outrage led to the Bracken Court Hotel cancelling the event booking with the organisers Universal Royalty. The cocky company owner Annette Hill was unperturbed and she told Irish Independent reporters “Anybody who thinks the pageant isn’t going ahead would want to look up the name and research Annette Hill”.

Ms Hill does have a lot of experience with managing controversial child beauty pageants and, behind the scenes, she had Universal Royalty staff searching for a new venue. The pageant did go ahead, in a bar called Corrigan’s Kitchen, in Co. Monaghan. During the contest Ms Hill admitted that the details of the venue were kept secret and the pageant was tactically rushed in order to combat any attempt to organise a protest. Contestants, aged from 18 months to 14 years, wore fake tan, makeup, heels, ballgowns and inappropriate costumes. A six-year-old girl danced, in a bikini, to the track ‘Feeling Hot Hot Hot’. Ms Hill declared the pageant a success and has since announced plans to hold a Christmas-themed contest in Cork on the 14 of December.

Again secrecy surrounds the venue and I am concerned that, in spite of public outcry, this event will go ahead in a Cork venue and the public will only learn of the pageant in the aftermath. Whilst the demand for child pageants is small in Ireland we still need to be vigilant to protect girls and our society from the normalisation of the objectification of girls. The entrants to these pageants apparently cross all classes of society but we need to be mindful that children who are entered in these contests are amongst our most vulnerable due to poor parenting. It is a parent’s duty to protect their child, to make decisions in the best interest of the child’s well-being but some parents are evidently unaware, or in denial, as to the damage caused to self-esteem and self-image of objectified girls.

Senator Jillian van Turnhout is calling for, and receiving, political support for legislation banning child beauty pageants in Ireland and I welcome this measure. However no legislation will be in place to prevent the Cork Christmas-themed event next month. Therefore, I am calling on all venue owners in Cork City and County to publicly pledge to never host such an event. I also ask the each and every person, who knows that these events are harmful, to take the time to sign the online petition called ‘Protect girls, refuse to host Child Pageants’ which is a commitment to boycott any venue that hosts this event. Most business owners and managers will be responsible but this petition is targeted at the ones who are only to happy to profit from the harmful sexualisation of girls.

http://www.change.org/petitions/protect-girls-refuse-to-host-child-pageants-to-owners-and-manager-of-hotels-and-bars-in-ireland

Update: A battle won but many more to fight!

The Christmas-themed (December 14th) child pageant was cancelled! Presumably because they could not find a host venue. However there are rumours of another pageant event in Ireland in March 2014 and the pageant organisers’ website has Ireland scheduled for 20 September 2014.

Update: SENATOR VAN TURNHOUT TABLES MOTION CONDEMNING CHILD BEAUTY PAGEANTS IN IRELAND

Seanad Éireann Private Members Business – Wednesday 5 March 2014

watch here – http://www.oireachtas.ie/viewdoc.asp?DocID=25538&&CatID=129

http://www.jillianvanturnhout.ie/?p=1196

Maureen Considine, Artist Statement on 2013 Blue Series

Originally published in Winter 2013 issue of Chronic Pain Ireland Quarterly Newsletter

For those of us in a state of long-term, near constant pain describing the sensations of our physical pain can be an arduous process. As an artist I have a natural inclination towards visual imagery and I was often frustrated that the many doctors I visited could not provide me with a picture of my pain or injury. I developed a strong desire to render my pain visible, I thought that I wanted a scan or other medical record which would make my pain an irrefutable fact that no one could deny, ignore or downplay. Of course this was in part due to my defensiveness and worry about not being believed, but there was something else, something subconscious at work here. I think on some level I understood that through art I could help myself come to terms with what had happened to my body and mind as a result of chronic pain.

I began by researching physical pain through medical, philosophical and psychological theory. I spoke to people who had a helpful understanding and insight into my condition and withdrew from conversations with those who could not understand. Simultaneously I was engaged in a dialogue with my body and mind, using mindfulness meditation to explore the sensations I felt and my responses to the pain. Informed by research, I searched my mind and soul for an explanation as to ‘why me?’. I tried to be fearlessly honest with myself but also aware that I was not to blame for what had happened to my body and I refuse to discuss it with anyone who seeks to label some part of my character as responsible for the absence of healing in the affected areas of my body.

I made this Blue Series in early 2013 and I chose the colour blue for because I associate with sadness, mourning, spirituality and mortality. My Blue Series documents and represents my journey through mourning for, and acceptance of, my broken body. As part of this spiritual journey I began walking by the River Lee in Cork and collecting objects I found on the muddy banks. The objects had been weathered and often transformed by the water and I was drawn to them as symbols of decay and transformation. I was also interested in the river as a symbol of the subconscious mind and I allowed my darkest thoughts to surface while searching by the river and gradually I began to see the intersections between my physical pain and emotional trauma including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety.

In my studio I experimented with the these found objects; glass, rusted metals, barnacles and bones. Over an extended period, I figured out how I would be able to use these objects as symbols of pain in self-portraits. I set up a camera on a timer and lights covered in a blue ‘gel’. I then performed a variety pre-planned poses for the camera. Next I carefully selected the shots and had them printed, life-sized on a heavy ‘hahnemuhle’ fine art paper.

The first print I worked on was ‘A Growing Dis-Ease’ 2013, which involved gluing barnacles to the surface of the print to convey how pain had latched onto my body and was spreading from my left shoulder area. The title also refers to how PTSD made me feel at ill-ease.

Maureen Considine, ‘Growing Dis-Ease’, 2013, digital print on hahnemuhle with barnacles

The second print was called ‘Amplification’ 2013 and it refers to how the mind seeks to understand a long term pain by ‘amplifying’ the sensations from the affected area. I used rusted metal pieces to punch through the surface of the image of my body. The metal protrudes from the image of my body in a visual reference to the disruption of the body and mind caused by neuropathic pain signals.

Maureen Considine, ‘Amplification’’, 2013, digital print on hahnemuhle with rusted metal

My third print, ‘Hypersensitivity’ 2013, refers to another type of pain signal that leaves the skin hypersensitive to touch. This sensation is conveyed by covering specific parts of the image of the body in a layer of crushed coloured glass.

Maureen Considine, ‘Hypersensitivity’’, 2013, digital print on hahnemuhle with glass

The fourth and final image, ‘Dysmorphia’ 2013, is a visual description of temporomandibular joint disorder or TMJ. I have been experiencing nervous clenching and bruxing of my jaw joint which I believe is a symptom of PTSD and possibly related to an injury. My TMJ could be described as a hard pain accompanied by a sense of a swollen and mutated ear and jaw joint. I therefore use a found animal bone to represent my dysmorphic impression of my jaw and ear. I cut out a section of the image and inserted the bone into the paper.

Maureen Considine, ‘Dysmorphia’’, 2013, digital print on hahnemuhle with bone