How young is too young for fake tan, nails and make up?
Mickie Wood’s daughter Eden hasn’t even started school yet, but she’s already a fully fledged beauty queen. And mum-of-one Mickie admits she’s spent well over £60,000 funding her four year old’s “career.”
Shockingly, Eden, who was just 15 months old when she competed in her first pageant, has her own spray tanning machine, weekly lessons with private dance, gym and modelling coaches and her own hair and make-up artist.
Eden’s also been wearing fake finger and toe nails since she was just two, has had her ears pierced and has even had real hair extensions.
But Mickie, 45, is unrepentant despite criticism that Eden could be a magnet for paedophiles by posing in bikinis and outrageous showgirl outfits on stage.
“You get weirdos everywhere, from supermarkets to the school gates,” says Mickie. “I don’t see why Eden would be a target.
“After we appeared on a TV programme, people criticised us, saying Eden was growing up too young – but we got much more positive than negative comments and I’d tell people to come and see her at home, because she does things normal kids do too.
“Anyway, she never goes anywhere without either me or her father. After I watched a programme about a little girl being snatched from her bed when Eden was 16 months old, we moved her back into our bedroom. Now we all go to bed together every night, with her tucked up between us.
“As long as Eden’s happy doing pageants, we’ll carry on with them,” says Mickie, a singing and drama teacher.
“I wouldn’t tell anyone else what to do, so why should they dictate to us? She excels at pageants and if that’s what she chooses to do, we’ll work hard at it.”
Mickie herself competed in pageants from the age of 12, but with limited success. Although she took part in the early rounds of Miss America, she didn’t qualify for the final and by the time she was in her 20s, she was touring clubs as a singer instead.
But when a friend mentioned a children’s beauty pageant close to their hometown of Taylor, Arkansas, Mickie leapt at the chance to enter Eden into her age group.
“She loved singing and dancing – she seemed to be a natural performer,” recalls Mickie. “The first one was just a small contest. We didn’t particularly pull out all the stops and she came nowhere. But she looked so cute all dressed up.
“I found out about a bigger pageant being held the following week and, when Eden walked out on stage, I heard all three judges gasp. One of them said: ‘Look at that baby – she’s just beautiful.’ It was music to my ears and when she won, it was as though pageants were her destiny.”
Mickie denies she’s sexualising her daughter by dressing her up as a woman; she sees it as simply glitzy and glamorous. And because other girls entering pageants dress in a similar way, Mickie also views it as a way of keeping up with everyone else.
Eden began competing in pageants regularly and has now taken part in 175. She often comes first, winning a cash prize.
Since turning two, Eden’s had regular beauty treatments – although she’s not always happy about them.
“We started going for a more glitzy look once she was two and a half,” says Mickie.
“But Eden hated having her earrings changed and her fake nails applied. So I came up with the idea of a fingernail and earring fairy.
“I’d wait until she was asleep and then apply the fingernails or change her earrings. When she woke up I’d say the fairy visited to put them on her and she’d get really excited!”
Mickie goes to extreme lengths to prepare for pageants, which they attend up to two or three times a month.
Before a really big show, Eden will make weekly visits to her dance teacher and modelling coach – a former model who teaches her how to smile and walk – and practise singing up to three times a day with her mother. Her private tuition bills top £220 a month.
They drive to competitions, as she has too much luggage to fly. Mickie packs up the car the day before – and takes at least three dresses worth between £1,300 and £2,250 each – all individually designed for Eden by a dress maker.
She also takes Eden’s make-up artist and modelling coach at a cost of around £250 a time – not including hotel and food bills, which she also pays for.
Eden also takes a suitcase containing £1,250 worth of hair pieces, extensions and rollers. For one show Mickie even sent Eden to have real hair extensions.
“I’m more extreme than most mums,” admits Mickie. “But I want Eden to have every possible opportunity.”
The night before each pageant, Mickie washes Eden’s hair and scrubs her down so her fake tan isn’t patchy. (A year ago, she even bought Eden her own £150 spray tanning system).
The next morning, they’ll be up at 6.30am to start Eden’s hair and make-up. During the contest, Eden will show off her talent – in her case singing and dancing – and dress up in her favourite outfits.
Clearly it all comes with a price tag. Just the entrance fees can be £1,250, and Mickie’s long-suffering husband has to do two jobs – one in a factory and the other on a farm – to help fund the cost.
“We’re not in any debt and, frankly, how we spend our money is our business,” insists Mickie. “I think most mothers on the beauty pageant circuit spend as much as me – whether they admit to it or not!”
And Mickie refuses to see any negatives to Eden’s “career.”
“I’m a very positive person,” she says. “I love pageants and Eden enjoys competing. Even my 82-year-old mother likes coming along. I’ve been criticised but we’ve also had loads of positive feedback.
“Who knows what she’ll end up doing? People say she shouldn’t wear make-up until she’s about 12 – but by then she might be on stage on Broadway! I want her to experience life at its fullest, and be successful in whatever she chooses to do – there’s no point in holding her back.
“It’s not as if we force her to do anything. She loves it.”