via Daily Mail:
Cleansed of mascara, eyeshadow, lipstick and the body glitter used by her mother to make her tender young skin sparkle, Ocean Orrey looks like any other little girl.
Yet a shiny pink sash hanging in her playroom, adorned with the words ‘Most Beautiful’, serves as a reminder of the four-year-old’s triumph at the Miss Glitz Sparkle 2012 beauty pageant on Sunday.
Two days after parading down the catwalk in a glittering pink swimming costume, her hand placed jauntily on her hips, Ocean is blissfully unaware of the wave of controversy sparked by the competition.
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Instead she plays happily in the spacious garden of her parents’ £250,000 detached home in Boston, Lincolnshire, with her 18-month-old twin brothers, Madrid and Milan.
In the days since the competition, children’s charities and experts have spoken out against the event, claiming that it encourages the sexualisation of children.
Ocean was among dozens of youngsters, one aged just 20 months, who were made up and dressed in spangled costumes to compete against each other at a Lincoln hotel.
She took part in a beauty round, a talent round, a formal-wear round with interview, and a ‘Hollywood star’ round in which she dressed up as Tallulah, the provocative nightclub singer from the film Bugsy Malone.
While pageants have traditionally been a purely American phenomenon, with competitions across the States regularly filmed for downmarket reality shows such as Toddlers And Tiaras, they are becoming increasingly common in Britain.
Winner Dyamond Donovan, 4, poses at the Glitz Sparkle 2012 competition
Furious at the criticism of the pageant — and of the parents who let their children take part — Ocean’s 26-year-old mother, Bianca Alsop, insists that far from damaging her daughter, entering the pageant has been a positive experience.
‘I think my daughter is beautiful, and she enjoyed it,’ she says of the little girl she likes to refer to as ‘the Vivienne Westwood of the toddler world’.
‘I didn’t do it for my own benefit. It’s confidence-building and it’s showcasing her beauty,’ she says. ‘It’s more about social skills than bikini-clad toddlers with lipstick.
‘People take it far too seriously — it’s just a bit of fun. She wasn’t wearing false eyelashes or false nails or fake tan or hair extensions, like some of the other girls. I was so proud of her. And she was proud of herself.’
Bianca spent £500 — in her view ‘not very much’ — on outfits for Ocean and her twin boys, who also competed in the pageant.
She says she does not approve of the extremes to which American pageant mothers go.
‘I would never give Ocean a padded bra or a fake tan — that’s outrageous,’ she says.
Yet she insists that wearing make-up is harmless.
‘What little girl doesn’t go in her mother’s make-up bag?’ she says. ‘It’s just one day when a little girl can be like her mum. She felt like a little diva. She felt good about herself. I like making her happy.’
But given this week’s reaction, there is no doubt the pageant phenomenon is one which raises deeply unsettling questions about the over-sexualisation of children.
The director of children’s charity Kidscape, Claude Knights, warned yesterday: ‘These children are so young, it’s impossible for them to be giving their consent to wearing swimwear and pseudo-evening dresses, as well as fake eyelashes and spray tans.’
Responding to such criticism, Bianca says: ‘The idea of sexualisation does not cross anyone’s mind in that room. Ocean wore a one-piece sailor costume with full make-up for a dance show last month — but because that’s on a stage, no one seems to think it’s a problem.
‘When she’s on a catwalk with her hand on her hip, there’s a frenzy of criticism. I am gobsmacked.’
What Bianca perhaps fails to grasp is that in a dance show, children are not being judged on their beauty. But while it would be easy to dismiss her arguments as those of just another uneducated, fame-obsessed mother, Bianca is intelligent and affluent.
She was bright enough to win a place at Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School in Alford, Lincolnshire, and left with a clutch of A and B grade GCSEs. She went to Spain to study Spanish before returning here to work as a clerk for HSBC.
She is now a sales manager for a company which sells electric car charging stations, and lives with her partner, 34-year-old Lee Orrey, a general manager at a local electrics company, who says he doesn’t mind his daughter wearing make-up as long as it is just for competitions.
Judging by the three Audis parked on the drive outside their home, one of them with a personalised number plate, the hard-working couple are doing well for themselves.
Showing off: The young girls, including Hollie Young (right) enjoyed themselves at the event
Why, then, does Bianca believe in placing so much emphasis on her infant daughter’s appearance? ‘Looks are important,’ insists Bianca, a striking-looking 5ft 11in blonde. A former dancer, she has also dabbled in modelling, taking part in a fashion show for a hairdressing salon.
She admits to having a breast enlargement operation at the age of 20 after being teased at school for being flat-chested. She also has botox injections to smooth away the tiny lines appearing on her forehead.
Despite her daughter’s new ‘Most Beautiful’ title, she points out that Ocean has ears which bend slightly forward, which will be fixed ‘as soon as she’s old enough’.
‘I will be getting them pinned back. Anything which makes you more confident is a good thing,’ she maintains.
‘If two people with the same education turn up for a job interview and one is well turned-out and the other isn’t, the second one wouldn’t stand a chance.’
Her argument is that the earlier a girl accepts that looks matter very much indeed, the better. ‘We are always faced with this idea of perfection,’ she says, ‘so we can’t run from it. It’s always going to be in every magazine.
‘Actually, I think there is too much pressure on girls, but we might as well conform and try to look our best.’
The root of the problem, she believes, lies not with pageants or pushy mothers, but with Disney.
‘Disney rules,’ says Bianca. ‘From about the age of two, little girls see Hannah Montana and all the Disney princesses everywhere. Television is dominated by this perfection. It’s part of kids’ everyday life.’
It is certainly part of Ocean’s everyday life. At home, on a rail, hang a series of dresses, copies of those worn by Disney’s most famous princesses — Snow White, Belle (from Beauty And The Beast), Cinderella — with sparkling shoes to match.
Bianca will not be persuaded by the argument that parents can choose whether or not to buy into this heavy marketing.
Proud parents: Twins Stella and Starr Moss with mother Roxy and father Simon at the competition
‘If you stop them doing normal children’s things like dressing up and watching Disney programmes, you single them out,’ she says.
Perhaps most bizarrely of all, she insists that it is Ocean herself who is orchestrating this pink and glittery childhood.
‘She has her own ideas,’ she says. ‘She chooses her own outfits. She doesn’t like school uniform because it’s too grey, and she won’t wear jeans or even trousers unless they are flowery.
‘I love buying her clothes. I love her looking her best.’
Sadly, Ocean’s mother is not alone when it comes to buying into Britain’s image-obsessed society. TV, the internet and magazines are dominated by the fake-tanned stars of scripted reality TV shows such as The Only Way Is Essex and Made in Chelsea, not to mention the ubiquitous footballers wives.
Intelligent female role models are few and far between.
It’s hardly surprising, then, that mothers like Bianca believe there is a direct correlation between their daughters’ future happiness and their looks.
She says her own role model is businesswoman and former Birmingham City FC managing director Karren Brady, because ‘she is a working mother who always looks immaculate’.
‘You are always going to get ahead if you look good,’ she adds.
Ocean was just six months old when her mother signed her up to a modelling agency and enrolled her on the web site Star Now.
‘When she was born, she was, in my eyes, perfectly proportioned,’ says Bianca. ‘She had lots of hair, and people said I should get her into modelling. You just go with the flow.’
The Miss Glitz Sparkle pageant on Sunday was Ocean’s first stage competition, but because of the backlash this week it may also be her last.
In preparation for the show, Bianca transformed part of the downstairs of her home into a catwalk for three weeks so she could teach Ocean to strut and pose with her right foot at a 90-degree angle, and toes pointed. On the day of the competition, she spent an hour and a half tonging her daughter’s blonde hair and applying concealer, bronzer, mascara, lipstick and body glitter.
Ocean wore three outfits during the competition — a white tassel dress from High Street store H&M for Tallulah in the ‘Hollywood’ round, a pink swimsuit and a blue and pink cupcake dress.
Yet Ocean’s outfits paled in comparison with the ensembles worn by other contestants. Three-year-old Tia Wilkinson wore a red and blue bejewelled bikini for the pageant — which is the 14th she’s entered in the past 18 months.
Oddly, Bianca insists that despite her decision to enter Ocean into pageants and launch her career as a child model, she would be horrified if her daughter were to become a model when she was older.
‘I would absolutely love for her to be a businesswoman or a vet,’ she says. ‘But the pageant has helped her have confidence in herself.
‘She possibly would have been upset if she hadn’t won anything. However, I am a great believer in healthy competition. We all have to lose at some point.’
And Bianca insists that her daughter’s life is a well-balanced one. She attends gymnastics and dance classes for two hours a week, learning disco, tap and ballet, and has swimming lessons.
She is thriving at school, and she is read to every evening, with The Gruffalo one of her favourite bedtime stories.
‘I don’t want to be seen as a bad parent,’ says Bianca.
‘All my children are loved and happy and well-fed.
‘Ocean got lots of cuddles and kisses after the pageant, but she got the same when she learnt to swim without her armbands.’
Perhaps most striking about Bianca’s defence of her mothering is when she utters the simplest — and most poignant — of phrases.
‘I think she’s lovely as she is,’ she says.
It’s a sentiment worth a hundred sashes, sparkly tiaras and spray tans — and surely it’s the only one that an impressionable child needs to hear.
The entrants pull their best pose for the judges as overall supreme winner Alexia beams with her trophy