40-year-old pageant mom Bonnie Licciardello has spent six years at pageants with 7-year-old daughter Regan--competing in over 125 pageants!
Bonnie says Regan loves it and that pageants help her daughter be poised and articulate. Read our exclusive interview and tell us what you think: cute or creepy?
Momlogic: What do you say to people who criticize you for over sexualizing and objectifying your daughter?
Bonnie: I ask them if they want to come to my house and watch videos of Regan. Now there are a lot of kids who are Regan's age... wearing Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader outfits. We don't do that... but for those other parents that do, it doesn't mean that it's wrong or right.
ML: But you can see why people might think wearing all that makeup and the swimsuits might be a little much...
Bonnie: A lot of people find fault in the makeup and the only thing I can say to that is that it's stage makeup...I admit it can be a little jarring sometimes... But then you get into the swing of things and start going to lots of pageants, and there are 400 in your age group, and your child is the only one without a wiglet or a spray tan and you know what, you're going to lose. So you really have to start doing it if you want to compete.
ML: Do you worry about her being targeted by predators?
Bonnie: She's never away from my side... if we can't do something with her, then we don't do it.
Child Pageants: Cute or Creepy? | Momlogic
I love walking on stage in my bathing suit because the music is always so happy and fun!
Drawing the line is not simple. It's very easy to step outside the box and say 'I'll never allow my daughter to do this or that.' But in reality, decisions can change depending on many factors.
Regan and Bonnie Licciardello (Regan's mother) , U.S.A.
With the Oscars just around the corner and the independent film "Little Miss Sunshine" nominated for Best Film, Orato decided to find a real child beauty queen to tell the inside story. More than 3,000 beauty contests for children are held in the U.S. each year, and the epicenter of the pageants is Texas, where the competition to win a major title on the popular Universal Royalty circuit is fierce. Telling us what it's really like to be part of this world is Regan Licciardello, a six-year-old girl who has already accumulated over 400 trophies and 200 crowns. These days, she's auditioning in Hollywood for the next big step: the film and television industries.
Another young girl, 6-year-old JonBenet Ramsey, who was murdered on Christmas Day, 1996, was the most famous young beauty queen of all the Little Miss competitions. Her death attracted international scrutiny into the child beauty industry, prompting criticism about the practice of sexualizing young girls. Regan's mom, however, says her daughter was born to be a beauty queen, and none of the controversy could distract her daughter from her dreams. She says although Regan is a natural performer, it is still just one of her many hobbies.
Bonnie: Regan stepped into the pageant world when she was only a baby. It may sound crazy, but everyone who met her was always asking if she did pageants. Texas, where we are, is a big pageant state. At the beginning it was a bit overwhelming; everywhere we'd go she'd catch people's attention and they'd come up to my husband and I saying how graceful she was and how we should put her into a beauty contest. Russell, my husband, is a very proud papa and after a few of these episodes he asked me to find a pageant for Regan.
I didn't know where to start looking, but luck knocked at our door. One night we were having dinner in a restaurant here in Texas when a man came to our table to congratulate us on how pretty Regan was. He explained he was the head of a pageant contest coming up the following month and he gave us his business card. That's how we entered Regan in her first pageant. It was on her first birthday. My husband was the happiest of all four of us, and I'd say that my older son, now 18, was very excited too.
Regan: I like doing pageant. It's fun! I get to wear pretty dresses and I visit different cities. I've made lots of friends and we keep in touch.
Bonnie: It's said that mothers who take their kids to these contests are living through their daughters. That's not the case with Regan. She's a performer by nature. She wants to do it.
Regan and her mother, Bonnie Licciardello.
When she was only three, she would cuddle up to me in the morning and ask, "Momma, do I have a pageant today?"
Even before that, when she was only two, she'd watch a movie and she'd want to act it out. She'd watch whatever film over and over again until she'd learn by heart what the main character said. Not only that, she'd make me dress her as the protagonist of the movie or the person in television. Trust me, sometimes it can be very problematic.
Regan: But it's fun Momma!
Bonnie: It is fun baby, I'm not criticizing you, I'm explaining what you like to do and how you've always been an actress even when you were too little to understand the concept-
The other day, for example, we were watching Disney's Beauty and The Beast in which Belle appears in a blue dress. She is reading a book and carrying a basket and we had to stop the movie because Regan wanted to change her clothes to blue and find a book and a basket. And later the character is in a yellow dress, so we had to change Regan's clothes and shoes and even her hairstyle. It has always been like that.
Regan: I like doing that. I think my friends like it too. Some of them want to have the same dresses I have or the same toys. I think that's cool.
Bonnie: Drawing the line is not simple. It's very easy to step outside the box and say "I'll never do this or that." But in reality, decisions can change depending on many factors. There are many things I don't accept now. For instance, I don't allow Regan to wear fake teeth, but I can't say I'd never allow her to wear them.
Regan is a performer by nature.
Regan has wonderful, perfectly white and straight teeth, but if she hadn't, maybe I'd think differently.
Since the well-known child star Dakota Fanning and Regan share the same agent, I'm very aware of what's going on with Dakota. I know that she recently stirred up a whole lot of controversy by starring in an adult-themed film entitled Hounddog. I haven't seen it yet, but I've read that the film called for Dakota to act out a rape scene and appear in nothing else but her underwear. It would be so easy for me to say that I'd never let Regan do something like that. It's clear to me that I wouldn't want to see her in any movie that glamorizes the consumption of drugs, alcohol or random sex. But I also have to say that I'd analyze every opportunity case by case because I'd rather see a wonderful actress, like Dakota, playing a controversial character in a very convincing way than anyone else doing a very poor job.
If Regan were offered a role like that, I would have to see the script first, the way the scene is played, how much nudity is involved and, of course, who is directing it and the kind of film we are talking about. Only then would I be able to make a decision. It would take a lot of thought and discussion with my husband before we could make up our minds.
The same kind of questioning happened when we first decided to enter Regan in the pageant world. People kept reminding us of JonBenet Ramsey, the 6-year-old beauty queen whose unsolved murder casted a spotlight on the competitive world of children's pageants.
Regan's parents make sure Regan has always the nicest dresses.
Almost every story about the murder carried images of JonBenet dolled up like an adult, staring vacantly into the camera or prancing onstage in her cowgirl outfit. But honestly, I don't think her involvement in the beauty contest arena had anything to do with her tragic murder. I don't think either that her parents did it as some say. I just think that crazy people are everywhere and they target famous people for obvious reasons: they are more exposed than then rest of us.
A Normal Kid
Bonnie: My girl is a normal kid. She goes to kindergarten, watches TV and takes ballet classes two times a week among may other regular activities. She also loves ice skating. She started practicing over a year ago and she has already won four medals: two golds, one silver and one bronze. She also performed a solo in the Nutcracker last year.
Beauty contests are one of the many hobbies Regan has. They are not a key part of her or our life. Some parents, however, take it too seriously and get way too involved. It seems like everything they think, breath and sleep is pageant. They forget that their children should do it as a hobby, as something they love to do because it is fun. Unfortunately in every pageant I see kids who do not want to be there and who hate what they are doing.
Those parents only want to win. Don't take me wrong: I love to win! But if Regan has to win at the cost of two or more hours of practice everyday, then it's not worth it.
Regan: I like coming home after school and playing with my Persian kitten. I bought her with the money I've won doing pageants.
Regan has done several photos for magazines and catalogues.
I don't practice everyday, although it's fun.
Bonnie: If she is participating in a pageant on Saturday, for example, we'll start rehearsing on Monday of that same week for only 30 minutes a day. That's it. Other girls, even if they are not doing pageant, are forced to practice one hour or more every day. We don't do that to Regan. Besides, she's natural. She loves to pretend she is doing a pageant or that she's a singer and that she is performing in a concert. In other words, she loves the stage and she loves the applause. And she wins, not because she's more beautiful than the other girls - even though she is very beautiful - but because she is very happy to be there and it shows. She looks confident and comfortable and that attracts the judges' attention.
Regan: The most fun part is the swimsuit modeling. I love walking on stage in my bathing suit because the music is always so happy and fun and everyone is looking at you.
Bonnie: Regan doesn't always win. But up until maybe six months ago she didn't really know when she'd lost because beauty contests give away many secondary awards -- grand supreme, second mini supreme, second queen of the group, overall most beautiful, etc. She almost always came home with some kind of prize.
From all the pageants we've been in, Universal Royalty is one of the contests we like best. Regan loves it. She's been there three times, and although she won a crown each time, she didn't win the highest title until the third try, last November. Universal Royalty National Pageant is highly competitive. There are 100 contestants for only 10 crowns. It's one of the few pageant that Regan competes in here in Texas.
I love make up, but I can only wear lip gloss to school.
We now mostly do the large national pageants that are held out of state.
Entering one of those big pageants costs between US$1,000 to US$2,000. I don't like taking Regan to the small competitions because she has a lot of experience and she'd probably beat the little girls who are just starting. I think every kid deserves to win and those girls don't know anything about pageants yet. They have never had modeling lessons, their mothers don't know about hairstyles and make up and they don't have the right clothes, but they are wonderful children who deserve a chance.
Some mothers seem to resent Regan's success and they take it out on their own children. Several directors have told me that some of them even phone the pageant ahead of time and ask if Regan is coming. Some moms get snippy if their child loses. I've seen them pull a girl off the stage and yell at her. They will say to her face, "You suck." To those mothers I'd say that they suck - both as mothers and women.
There are girls that have beaten Regan every time they've competed, but when they go we're still friendly to them because we still enjoy seeing them. If not the kid's fault that she wins every time.
I always tell Regan, "If you are the smartest in the room you cannot learn a thing, but if you're surrounded by people who are smarter than you then you can always learn from them."
Regan: I have fun with my Mom. We usually watch the DVD of my appearances afterwards.
Bonnie: Yes, we do and Regan is very critical of herself. She will tell me not only if she did something wrong, but also if she sees another girl make a mistake.
Regan stepped into the pageant world when she was only a baby.
"Mamma," she will say, "that girl looked at the floor. In pageants you should always keep your eyes on the judges, never on the floor." Or she'll say, "Look how beautifully that girl modelled." She knows what the judges are looking for.
I taught her to do it right by letting her play with her favorite three toys. She'd put them on the sofa and I'd mark exes on the carpet with tape so she can walk, stop at those points and try keeping her eyes on the toys and not on Mommy.
Regan also chooses the pageants she wants to go. Sometimes we drive 23 hours to go to a pageant. Her favorite state to compete in is Tennessee. She wants to move there.
We look at the paperwork together. She sees the crown and she asks me questions like whether she has to be tanned, and then she decides. More than once, I'd wanted to go to a certain pageant because the high title paid a lot of money, something like US$10,000 but she didn't want to because, for example, she didn't like the crown. I have to respect that.
Once she had the opportunity to do a worldwide commercial for Pampers, but because she was already potty trained she didn't want to do it. She refused trying on diapers, so we didn't do it, despite the fact it was about US$25,000.
Now we are in our way to Hollywood. We'll spend two months auditioning for movies and TV shows. Regan's agent is Osbrink. As I said, he's the same publicist as Dakota Fanning --the horse-loving girl in Dreamer (2005) and Charlotte's Web
protagonist (2006). I think Osbrink chose Regan for a reason.
My dream is to be in more movies- any movie.
They recognize talent and potential when they see it.
Regan: My dream is to be in more movies- any movie. I always have fun doing that.
Bonnie: So far she has accumulated over 400 trophies and 200 crowns, but we recently became involved with an organization called Queen For A Day and Regan donated 87 of her crowns to them. The organizers collect crowns and banners for girls with terminal diseases, and when they visit them at the hospital, they give those children a free makeover: manicure, pedicure, hairdo, make up and a crown. Because of her age, Regan was not allowed to deliver her crowns in person, but I'm happy she chose to give some away to this cause.
I raise my children the way I want the world to be and hopefully my little world can impact other people's. I can't change the negativity, the jealousy or the way some parents mistreat their children, but I can teach my kids to be modest and grateful of what they are and what they have.
If you enjoyed this story, you may also enjoy Miss America 2007 Lauren Nelson: Passing The Torch or My Daughters Competed With JonBenet Ramsay.
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