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Why Participating in French Beauty Pageants Could Land You in Jail

The Senate of France has passed a sweeping measure to ban beauty pageants for girls under the age of 16. The proposal was approved on a 196-146 vote Tuesday evening and must pass in the National Assembly in order to become law.

The proposal calls for strict penalties for beauty pageants that try to skirt this limit. Those responsible could face up to two years in prison or a fine of 30,000 euros. These measures are along the lines of what the French parliament called for in its 2012 report on the hyper sexualization of children, "Against Hyper-Sexualization: A New Fight For Equality." They also address a pressing need to reevaluate child-sized adult clothing and toys that are sold to young girls.

Virginie Klès, a member of the Senate of France in charge of the larger gender equality bill, found the measures to be strict.Women's Right Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem tried to push an amendment that would allow pageants to apply for competitions that targeted children under 16. However, the Senate of France was in favor of the full ban, and did not approve the amendment that was put forward.

Neighboring England has no such laws, and neither does the United States. In fact, in England, a mother entered her daughter into a beauty contest before she was even born. However, the American public reacted negatively to the December 2010 issue of the Vouge, which featured provocative images of young girls. This response then caused a backlash in the French public as well, leading to various reports put out by the French parliament on the issue of advertising with children.

According to the 2010 report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on the sexualization of girls, such objectification of girls can lead to cognitive issues that are caused by an overwhelming priority given to physical appearances. Not only that, the report also identifies larger societal risks, including gender-based violence and sexual exploitation of women if the current trend towards prioritizing young girls' physical appearances continues. French clinical psychologist Angelique Cimelière explains why beauty contests for younger girls are uniquely damaging: "The first critical issue with this type of competition is the age of the participants. Children 6 to 10 years (approximately) are going through a period known as 'latency.' It is a phase during which the emotional impulses are 'frozen' to focus exclusively on the development of learning, hence the common name 'age of reason.'" These reports highlight the growing need for the reforms in our commercial portrayal of females.

This proposal is a step in the right direction, not only for the French, but for western culture as a whole. Although using legal means to secure cultural change might seem overreaching, it is an effective tool when no other alternative appears viable to safeguard the security of our children. 

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