France may become the first Western country to ban “mini-miss” beauty contests for girls.
In in a measure approved by the upper house of the French parliament today, organisers of beauty pageants for children younger than 16 could face up to two years in jail or a fine of €30,000. The penalties would also apply the parents of the children.
The ban still has to be approved by the National Assembly, the lower house, but has considerable cross-party support.
Chantal Jouanno, a former centre-right environment minister who proposed the ban, said: “Children are increasingly being presented with hyper-sexualised images of themselves or transformed into miniature adults whose appearance signals sexual availability.”
“We mustn’t tell our daughters, even when they are tiny, that all that matters is the way they look.”
An amendment tabled by Ms Jouanno to a bill on women’s rights was approved by the Sénat in the early hours today by 197 votes to 146. A weaker government amendment calling only for regulation of “mini-miss” contests fell when Ms Jouanno’s amendment passed.
Michel Le Parmentier, who has been organising beauty contest for small French girls for 23 years, said that ban was based on a misconception. He said that the French contests avoided the kind of “eroticism” and “provocation” which were common in the United States.
“Our contests are just a game in which girls from the age of seven appear without make-up and wearing princess outfits,” he said. They could not be compared to “commercial” and “hysterical” contests for small girls in the “Anglo-saxon world”.
Ms Jouanno, who was a karate champion as a girl and teenager, has been trying to ban “mini-miss” competitions since 2011. “We are shining lights on their physical appearance. I have a hard time seeing how these competitions are in the greater interest of the child,” she said yesterday. . “When I asked an organizer why there were no mini-boy contests, he replied that boys would not lower themselves like that.”
The wording of Ms Jouanno’s ban is so sweeping that it is likely to be amended by the National Assembly. The penalties apply to organisers, parents and anyone “who encourages or tolerates children's access to these competitions”. Critics suggest that the ban, as worded, could also apply to “beautiful baby” contests or even some dance competitions.