I recently received a facebook message from Jennifer, a mommy friend in Miami.
“Please vote for Madisyn in this contest sponsored by TushyWushy Diapers,” it said, and included a link to a Web page with pictures of her adorable toddler. All I had to do was click the VOTE icon, type in my email address for a bunch of online promotional coupons, and then voila! my vote for Madisyn as TushyWushy Diaper’s “Adorable Baby 2016” would be cast.
I cringed. I just didn’t want to do it. I know how these sites work. Moms and dads from all over the world upload photos of their babies for a chance to win a baby beauty contest; where generally the baby receives a photo spread in a magazine or a national ad campaign with the company’s sponsor–generally a baby goods company, of course.
I sighed; and oddly enough, my daughter sighed as well; imitating me. Don’t get me wrong, Madisyn is adorable with that cherubic face and Shirley Temple curls. But I just couldn’t bring myself to vote for a baby in a baby beauty contest without feeling like a terrible person. It just felt wrong. Bottom line? I felt awkward declaring that Madisyn was cuter and better-looking than the other babies in the running. What kind of example was I, as an adult, as a mom, setting for my own young daughter if I voted in a baby beauty contest? I looked at the other photos of stranger babies from around the world, horrifying–and reprimanding–myself when I occasionally thought, “eh, that’s baby’s just OK.”
Jen’s one of my best friends, I just reminded myself. I have to vote for her kid. Maybe she really can be the next Gerber baby model! So, I quickly voted for Madisyn, hugged my own unruly but adorable toddler, and asked myself what message these national baby contests sent to parents and children–especially in today’s instagram-obsessed world.
Ok, I know. I was thinking way too deeply about this. This world has far greater problems than baby beauty contests. Jeez, this wasn’t The Presidential Election. What’s really the big deal?
However, 24 hours later, I still couldn’t shake that awkward feeling. It could be because Jen kept asking for votes on her facebook page, encouraging old high school, college, and work friends to cast a cyber vote for her baby.
Julia Israelski, a Southern Connecticut-based therapist helped me explore my emotions about baby beauty contests. “It sounds like you’re sensitive to having someone’s worth defined by their outward appearance; and to have that start so young is scary,” she said. “Before babies have a chance to ‘wow’ us with their personality and intellect we are already prescribing labels and a sense of worth and importance based solely on outward appearances–it can be shocking and a bit sad.”
Israelski helped me realize that when it comes to my own toddler, baby contests just weren’t for me. (That, however, doesn’t mean it’s wrong for other moms to enter their cuties–to each his own, right?)
It would be lose/lose for me, I also realized. Basically, if I enter my own daughter into a beauty contest and she doesn’t win, I’d think she wasn’t as worthy as some other baby and wonder what that baby had that mine didn’t. (Thinner thighs? Just kidding.) Yet, if she wins, it says her value and worth is based on her outer appearance, which is not something I want to reinforce for her at a young age; unfortunately, society will do enough of that without my permission.
I genuinely wish Madisyn and every baby out there competing in the TushyWushy diapers contest the best of luck; and may those kiddies who don’t win realize early on…at the end of the day, who cares? Life goes on. And I hope these kids realize this much sooner than later.