Introduction to Parent/Child Dynamic
The child and parent dynamic in high stress situations has always been an interesting one. Throughout this case study I will delve into the dynamic between the parent and the child in the realm of beauty. Examining the relationship of beauty pageant girls and body building guys and the effects of parent pressures on children in the long run and why this pressure exists does this. Through research I have conducted I have come to find that the long-term effects a child experiences due to pressure from parents ranges from low self esteem to self-inflicted bodily harm as an expression of the disappointments they feel they have caused their parents. I will also take a closer look at why any parent would put that degree of pressure on their child to win a beauty pageant or bodybuilding competition when their child may be as young as three or four years old. It comes as no surprise that a reoccurring theme throughout this research is that the pressure parents put on their children stems from disappointment they felt they had garnered from their own parents. Topics covered in this case study and literature review will help develop a better understanding of the pressures children face from their parental figures in the arena of competitive physical appearance.

History of Beauty Pageants and Bodybuilding
Forms of beauty pageants have been around since ancient Europe when Kings and Queens would be chosen based off their physical beauty to represent their country. P.T. Barnum held the first real modern day beauty pageant in 1854. His beauty contest was short-lived and eventually stopped due to protests made by citizens. After these complaints, Barnum turned to the newspaper where he began a beauty photograph competition. In 1880 beauty pageants became one of the summer staples in vacation destinations like Atlantic City, New Jersey and Galveston, Texas. Since then beauty pageants have become a large part of society, especially in the more southern states of the United States.

Bodybuilding has always been the masculine parallel to women’s beauty pageants. There is no specific date listed for the start of bodybuilding competitions but is estimated to be between 1880 and 1953. The first large-scale bodybuilding competition in America was held in 1904 at Madison Square Garden in New York. The world of bodybuilding began to gain momentum and popularity in the 1950s and 1960s. Many boys were encouraged by the comic books they were reading and the images of the superhero as physically large and muscular. Many of these children were encouraged by their fathers to achieve these super-human physiques. Bodybuilding continues to be a major competition throughout the world where many of its participants are exploited through being judged on their physical appearance and then being ranked. This exploitation will further the insecurities these children experience down the line.

Young Girls and the Exploitation Faced in Beauty Pageants
The typical image of a beauty queen exists as a young woman in her mid-teens to late twenties, however presently parents are encouraging children as young as eighteen months old to compete in beauty pageants. In an article titled, Exploitation in Child Beauty Pageants, the author – who is unknown - looks at the life of Jessica, an eighteen-month-old baby girl who is competing in beauty pageants. Jessica’s age obviously precludes her from agreeing to participate. Her mother, Sharon, wakes her up at 6:00 AM every pageant morning. Jessica is then forced to sit in a hotel for a weekend full of fake hair, fake nails, spray tans, and make up. Sharon claims that the competition provided by beauty pageants will help Jessica become more socially comfortable and mature more quickly. Sharon fails to recognize the pressure she is putting on her daughter as well as the long-term effects her choices will have on her daughter’s life, body image and self-esteem. The beauty pageant creates a stressful atmosphere that pushes competitors to constantly excel in all categories of competition. Pageant categories are based upon physical appearance and attractiveness.

The pageant process for young girls is divided up into three different categories of judgment. First is modeling sportswear and evening-wear, second is dancing, and third is a talent portion which the participants choose. The winners of these pageants may feel good about themselves, but the rest of the competitors only feel disappointment for not winning a trophy or crown. Many girls walk away crying and claiming their lack of beauty cost them the win. They may feel like they have disappointed their parents, leading them to become embarrassed and ashamed of themselves and their performance. By fostering this warped sense of self and increased doubt, parents are inevitably pushing their daughters towards a future of low self-esteem.

Young Boys and the Exploitation they Face in Bodybuilding
The research of the pressures on young boys competing in bodybuilding competitions is far less prevalent then that of young girls competing in beauty pageants. However through images provided by the media and pressure from their parents young boys are feeling more stress than ever to bulk up in order to impress girls, make sports teams, fit social stereotypes and make their parents proud. An example of a young boy who felt pressure from his martial arts father and his aerobics mother is Richard Sandrak. Richard was brought over to the United States from Ukraine when he was two years old. Richard’s parents began training him immediately so that by the time he was six he was pure muscle. They continued with a strict work out regiment and by the time he was eleven, Richard could bench press twice his weight and lift almost three times his weight. His parents had entered him in many bodybuilding competitions where he was successful. Because of his strict workout and diet regiment, Richard never had time to make friends or participate in activities that children his age normally would. After becoming a well-recognized figure in the bodybuilding world Richard was given the nickname “Little Hercules”. Richard’s parents capitalized on his fame and began to push him to not only compete in bodybuilding competitions but also become an actor. He made his debut in the documentary The World’s Strongest Boy and was then cast in the 2009 motion picture Little Hercules. Richard spoke of his father eating pizza in front of him while he was only allowed to eat lettuce as well as forbidding him from missing workouts or breaking his rigid diet rules. Richard’s father was removed from their family when he was charged with spousal abuse. The exploitation and pressure Richard faced from his family members is undoubtedly mirrored in other young males pressured into competing in such physically trying competitions.

The Long-Term Effects of Competing in Beauty Pageants
In 2009, Michael Berg wrote an article titled, Child Beauty Pageants: Read the Warning Label. In his article, Berg examines the positive effects beauty pageants are supposed to promote in girls and the real underlying effects it has on the participants. He first brings up the trait of “confidence” and how pageants are supposed to encourage girls to feel great about their selves. However, girls only feel this way when they are covered in make–up, have a spray tan, have fake nails, and even wear fake teeth (called flippers). When they are ‘normal’ or without all of these materialistic things they feel like they are less than their super-beauty personas says Berg. The effects that may come of this trait are body shame and perfectionism. The second trait beauty pageants are supposed to promote is “self esteem” but as opposed to boosting the child’s self esteem instead they children are often worried about proving themselves to their parent(s). Thus, Berg concludes that the child develops the idea of putting other peoples wants, needs, and desires before their own which can lead to depression, anxiety, and loss of identity. The third and final trait Berg analyzes is beauty pageants emphasis on “poise”. He shows that children soon learn that happy is the only acceptable state of mind and anything else is unacceptable. The long-term effects caused by this trait can be drug use, alcohol use, self-mutilation, and forms of eating disorders.

Tammy McDaniel Hills wrote an article titled, Beauty Pageants, in which she looks at the work of other sources to produce statistics about the insecurities beauty pageants promote in women. Hills looks at an article published by Random House Eating Disorders Statistics in Bliss Magazine that explains 15% of young women in society have some form of disorder eating due to pressure to feel physically beautiful. Miss America 2008 battled with the disease anorexia throughout high school and is now promoting healthy ways for girls to live their lives. Hills studies the work of another scholar, Sandra Williams, who published the statistics that “1% of female adolescence have anorexia. That means 1 out of every 100 young women between the ages of 10 and 20 are starving themselves to death” (Hills). Beauty pageants lead to a warped image of worth, which is reliant on physical beauty, and this may lead to dangerous adverse effects on the women and girls participating in these competitions.

The Pressures of the Bodybuilding Boy
In the article, Boys of 12 using Anabolic Steroids to ‘Get Girls’ written by Alan Travis in 2007, Travis discusses the dangerous use of anabolic steroids among boys. Boys who are as young as twelve years old are turning to steroids in hopes of achieving the body they desire. This body is based upon a stereotype for men, which is promoted by body building competitions. Anabolic steroids have become a large part of teenager bodybuilders lives, as well as a dangerous way to gain a competitive edge. Travis looks at the work of Professor David Nutt who claims that anabolic steroids are now being used by “tens of thousands” of bodybuilders and teenagers (Travis). Professor Nutt claims that steroid users are now the main buyers of needles as opposed to heroin users. The side effects of taking anabolic steroids are “acne, breast enlargement, sterility, liver tumors, and hepatitis”. Another professor Travis looks at is Professor Sir Michael Rawlins who is a chairman of a local council sat on by both Rawlins and Nutt. Professor Rawlins also states that anabolic steroids can “’make the testicles wither – which is probably not what the user wants’” (Travis). When boys begin to take steroids at such a young age their body become dependent on them, so by the time the user realizes what they are doing to their body their addiction may be severe and the effects irreversible.

Why Parents Put Pressure on Their Kids

Through the research on young girls competing in beauty pageants and boys competing in bodybuilding competitions I became curious as to why a parent would put so much pressure on their child at such a young age. Considering what the research shows, parents would steer clear of enrolling their children in such emotionally damaging activities. In the article written by Wesley Remmer, When Parent Put Too Much Pressure on Their Young Athletes to Succeed, looks at why parents put so much pressure on their children. One of the reasons is parent’s hope that their children will excel and receive a scholarship for school, thus saving them money. Parents also become caught up in the competition and potentially forget about their child’s feelings and how their own actions make their children feel. Being held to such high standard will likely make the child feel as though they are a constant disappointment to their parents, which makes them feel constantly insecure. Parents project the insecurities they felt from their relationship with their own parents onto their children thus leading to the development of insecurities in their own children. What I found to be most interesting throughout my research was that most of the children who feel pressure form their parents swear that they will never treat their children like that, but as they grow into adults and have their own children they often treat them the way their parents treated them. Through studying the dynamics of young competitors and their parents in beauty pageants and bodybuilding I have discovered the importance of having a parent that allows their child to discover their own identity while fostering personal growth through expression. This case study has shown that parents are the most important figures in their child’s life and that their impact can be potentially dangerous when under-valued.

Bibliography for Case Study

Richard Sandrak. (2011, March 14). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 12, 2011, from

Beauty pageant. (2011, April 14). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 11, 2011, from

Bodybuilding. (2011, April 13). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved April 11, 2011, from

Child Beauty Pageants: Read the Warning Label. (2009, April 1). In Mom Logic: What Moms Are Talking About. Retrieved April 12, 2011, from

Beauty Pageants. (2008, December 18). In Socyberty. Retrieved April 12, 2011 from

Adhikari, Pankaj. "Too Much Pressure on Children." Chinadaily US Edition. 19 Oct. 2007. Web. 12 Apr. 2011.

Remmer, Wesley. "When Parents Put Too Much Pressure on Their Young Athletes to Succeed - Central Kitsap Reporter." PNWLocalNews - Western Washington News, Sports, Entertainment. Central Kitsap Reporter, 17 June 2010. Web. 11 Apr. 2011.

Travis, Alan. "Boys of 12 Using Anabolic Steroids to 'get Girls' | Society | The Guardian." Latest News, Comment and Reviews from the Guardian | The Guardian, 30 Nov. 2007. Web. 12 Apr. 2011.