Beauty Pageants for Babies?

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Date: 2007
From: Tell Me More
Publisher: National Public Radio, Inc. (NPR)
Document Type: Audio file; Broadcast transcript; Interview
Length: 1,412 words
Content Level: (Level 2)
Lexile Measure: 810L

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Every week about this time, we check in with writers for the Washington Post Sunday Magazine to talk about interesting things they wrote about over the weekend.

Today: Baby beauty pageants. I know what you're thinking. I though it was creepy, too, when I first heard about it. And as a matter of fact, so did writer Tom Bartlett, until he entered his son in one. And then it became, well, a quest of sorts. We'll let him tell you about it. He's here in the studio.

Hi, Tom.

Mr. TOM BARTLETT (Writer, The Washington Post Sunday Magazine): Hi.

MARTIN: With Henry, who's here, too - with his wife, Kelly.

Mr. BARTLETT: He says hello.

MARTIN: He says hello? Good. Well, Tom, you and your wife Kelly describe yourselves as granola-eating snobs, the kind of PC-couple who insist on using cloth diapers, and yet you entered your son, Henry, in a pageant when he was five months old. What's up with that?

Mr. BARTLETT: What is up with that? Well, we -- it sort of started as lark. We heard about baby beauty pageants through - Kelly's cousin entered her -- entered his child in a pageant. We saw some pictures, and we're sort of intrigued.

MARTIN: And you thought, really, what? This would be a good story you could tell, get some laughs out of it.

Mr. BARTLETT: We thought it would be a good story. And then we sort of found the more that we get into it, the more into it we became. It just sort of became kind of - we really wanted to win once we start going.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Kelly, did you feel that way, too?

Ms. KELLY BARTLETT (Tom Bartlett's Wife): I did. It definitely started as a...

(Soundbite of baby talking)

Ms. BARTLETT:, I mean, I don't want to say a joke, but a kind of a joke. And - but then once you're there, you know, it sort of - you get pulled along with it. And you think, well, you know, he's as cute as those other babies.

MARTIN: I have to say he is pretty cute.

Ms. BARTLETT: Oh, thank you.

MARTIN: He's pretty cute. He's 10 months old now.

Ms. BARTLETT: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: Not doing too great in the hair department, but charisma to spare. Charisma to spare. Tom, you know -- forgive me, but you can't really talk about baby beauty pageants without talking about the whole JonBenet Ramsey situation. It's a terrible story where this - I think most people remember this beautiful, young girl who was in these pageants and died under sort of horrible circumstances, which - a case which remains unresolved. Does that whole -- and, of course, the beauty pageant thing has nothing to do with that murder, but that's what people think of. So the people there, do the beauty pageants that you got involved in, are they operating under the shadow of this taint, if you will?

Mr. BARTLETT: I think so, even though it's been quite a while since that whole case. I think that's the -- that's certainly true. And when you try to talk to beauty pageant organizers about JonBenet, they're -- they remain very sensitive. And one of the sort of the ironies in that case is that it actually helped sort of stoke interest in the baby beauty pageant and in kiddy - kid pageant industry, which is...

MARTIN: And there is quite a lot of interest.

Mr. BARTLETT: There's a remarkable interests. When I talked to people involved in the pageant, they said in the last three or four years, there's been an increase for whatever reason and there are more -- more of these pageants have started up. One of the reasons is that they make money.

MARTIN: Well, yeah. They're not cheap.

Mr. BARTLETT: They're not cheap. They're very expensive. And we were surprised at how expensive it all was and...

MARTIN: How expensive was it?

Mr. BARTLETT: In fees alone, we spent more than $500. And then there's just sort of, you know, ancillary costs as well. There's travel cost. There's hotel costs. You have...

MARTIN: Outfits.

Mr. BARTLETT: You have outfits.

MARTIN: Cute outfits.

Mr. BARTLETT: Cute outfits. You can drop a lot of money on that. And so parents really end up spending a lot, and you sort of feel as if you want to spend more because the more sort of parts of the pageant you enter, the better chance you have of winning. And that's sort of part of the, kind of part of it.

MARTIN: When you got in it just for the heck of it and because you thought it will be funny, and you're kind of being like cool and, you know, cynical about it. But what do you think the parents were after?

Ms. BARTLETT: Well...

Mr. BARTLETT: The more we got into it, we became sort of less cool and less cynical. But, I mean, it's a variety of things. When I talk to parents, some say, you know, that it - for them, it was sort of a lark for as well and they wanted to see how they would do. Others are very serious about their children becoming performers and getting into the entertainment industry, and they see this as the first step. And they, you know, the pageants promised that there will be scouts at this events, and they think, well, we'll get commercial deals. Maybe my kid will be in movies. This is sort of the first step toward, perhaps, fame and riches.

MARTIN: Are there, in fact, scouts at this event, or are these parents being sold a bill of goods?

Mr. BARTLETT: There are certainly some scouts, but often they're not - they're sort of very local and perhaps not the people who are really the gatekeepers to fame and fortune. And, I mean, it is the case that some -- a few, a very few children from pageants have gone on to other things. But for the most part, this is probably not the best route, I think, to get your kid into the movies.

MARTIN: So what did you learn from this whole thing?

Mr. BARTLETT: Oh, I don't know. We learn that...

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Not to be such snobbos when you look at...

Ms. BARTLETT: We didn't learn anything.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARTLETT: We didn't learn anything. Well, I mean, I think we learned -- I think I went into it with the sense that it -- with perhaps a slightly more -- I maybe emerged with a slightly more positive sense of the pageant. I still have a lot of doubts about the way pageants were organized, about how much money they cost, about all that...

(Soundbite of baby crying)

MARTIN: The way they suck you in.

Mr. BARTLETT: About the way...

MARTIN: I think Henry's weighing it. He goes, I didn't -- I'm scarred for life, mom. I'm scarred for life.

Mr. BARTLETT: Right. He's contradicting me.

MARTIN: He's thinking -- yeah, well, it won't be the first time.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Now, at the end of the article, you're actually considering entering Henry, the fabulous Henry, into additional contests. Did you lie down until that feeling went away, or are you still thinking about it?

Mr. BARTLETT: I think Henry's pageant career is over. I think we had plenty. I feel like we sort of did the full experience, and we're finished now.

MARTIN: And that $50 tuxedo that you bought for him to compete in, what happened to that?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BARTLETT: Well, that's in the closet. You know, with all baby clothes, they outgrow them almost instantly. So we have a lot of really nice clothes we can pass along to some other babies. But, yeah, I think we're past that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Tom, Kelly, Henry, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Mr. BARTLETT: Thanks.

Ms. BARTLETT: Thank you.

MARTIN: Tom Bartlett is a writer in Severn, Maryland. He wrote the story, "Babe Land" in the current issue of the Washington Post Sunday Magazine. I was joined in the studio by his wife, Kelly, and their son, Henry. You can read Tom's story about baby pageants on our Web site at

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A166722591