A BEAUTY pageant for babies and children due to be held in York today has sparked controversy.

The Miss Natural Sparkle 2013 and Miss Glitz Sparkle 2013 competitions at Dunnington Sports Club will involve 26 children aged under 16 who will compete in a “natural” category – which does not allow under-12s to wear make-up – or the “glitz” category, with “make-up, hair pieces, wiglets and spray tans allowed”.

Concerns have been raised by children’s charity Kidscape, which has questioned whether such competitions are age appropriate. Today’s event will see children take part in a talent competition and a catwalk show, with the natural category wearing fashionable clothes and the glitz category, swimwear.

The youngest age range is for babies aged up to two years, the “tiny” category is for three to four-year-olds, the “little miss” category will be for five to seven-year-olds, and there will be categories for “pre-teens” of eight to 12-years and junior teens of 13 to 16. Three boys aged three to ten are expected to compete in the “prince” category.

Leanne Woodall, the event’s organiser – whose pageants have brought criticism elsewhere for encouraging children to grow up too soon – said she believed they helped to build children’s confidence.

Mrs Woodall said: “People think it’s dressing your child up to look like an adult but they forget they do it for dance, for theatre, for Hallowe’en. It’s their day of being a princess.

“The media portrays it to be bad and sexualising and dressing your child like an adult. If people came along they would realise it was no different to a football match or a game.”

Mrs Woodall said she became involved in beauty pageants through her nine-year-old daughter, Tia, who has now competed in 18 pageants and is due to travel to the US to compete.

Mrs Woodall said children would be given awards including Miss Glitz Photogenic, Miss Charity and Miss Community to recognise their efforts to help others.

Contestants will travel from the South Coast, Burnley and Stockport and from across Yorkshire. A Dunnington resident, who asked not to be named, said: “There’s been a very bad reaction to it. It’s not something that is wanted. People I have spoken to in the village think it’s deemed the sexualisation of young children.”

Claude Knight, director of Kidscape, said: “There are great concerns about children under-five being launched into this world because they cannot in any way give informed consent. If you are going to promote natural beauty we then have another category which goes to the other extreme – I think there is an element of paying lip service to the concerns that have been raised.

“I think if you enter a child into a beauty pageant which does include artifice, the children are dressing and being made up in ways which are not age appropriate and that does point to the sexualisation of childhood.

“I’m also concerned about the commercialisation of childhood. We must not forget that at the root of this is the making of money.”

A spokesman for Dunnington Sports Club said the room had been hired privately and they were not aware what it was for.

Sexualisation of children is a worry

FAKE tans, full make-up and sexy swimwear have no place in the lives of toddlers and tweenagers.

News that US beauty-style pageants are now sweeping across the UK – and have arrived in York – should appal us.

The sexualisation of children is something to worry about – and the Government is looking at ways to stop the likes of padded bras for under tens parading our fashion stores and supermarkets.

David Cameron has backed Mumsnet’s Let Girls Be Girls campaign and the British Retail Consortium has launched stricted guidelines on inappropriate childrens' clothing, winning backing from M&S, Debenhams and the big three supermarkets among others.

Leading psychologist Steve Biddulph, who wrote the worldwide bestseller Raising Boys, has just brought out the sequel, Raising Girls, where he scarily announces that young girls are losing four years of their childhood on an account of our grow-up-too-fast, celebrity-obsessed culture.

Beauty pageants where parents dress up their daughters in flimsy clothing and smother their baby-soft skin in cosmetics only serve to accelerate this problem.

If we want young girls to feel good about themselves, why not remind them of the success of Jess Ennis and sign them up at the local sports club?

Or get them in the kitchen and have a fun cooking a meal for all the family?

Give them your time, plenty of praise, encouragement and love.

Make them believe in themselves – and don’t allow them to be judged on how well they can walk in a pair of glittering heels.