I support the right of kids to choose to participate in pageants just like I support their right to do anything else they may want to do that does not cause demonstrable harm to others. I don't think pageants in and of themselves are bad things, because some kids love attention and being in the limelight, some of them are very confident about their bodies and the combo of talent and beauty that pageants entail, and some of them enjoy contests of various sorts. I am only against competition if it carries very high stakes, i.e., the person could be ruined financially etc if they lose. But I was never against friendly competition with friends over a Mortal Kombat game, and we would even make fake trophies to award to winners just for the fun of it. We would never compel anyone to play who did not like to play, or expect the losers to empty out their piggy banks to the winners of the virtual contests.
Are some kids compelled to be in pageants by their parents? Of course, and that is wrong. Is that more likely to be the case than, say, sports? I'm not certain, but if so, that is irrelevant. There are ways to determine if your child enjoys pageants or not even before they get cognizant enough to speak. If your toddler cries and keeps trying to run off stage? She is likely not cut out for it; don't put their through that again, at least not until she gets verbal enough where you can ask her. Does she jump up and down excitedly and refuse to leave the stage? Then she obviously likes what she is doing, and should be allowed to keep doing it until when or if she chooses not to.
As I recall it, I was compelled to attend the government schooling system and heavily penalized in many ways by not getting the grades I was expected to get. I felt humiliated and degraded, I was bullied by both teachers and fellow students alike for not fitting into the system, and I ended up badly traumatized. Yet, how many people sympathized with me about that? How many people question the notion of forcing kids to receive their education that way, the growing unschooling movement notwithstanding?
Then I was always compelled to be good at sports, or at least to have an interest in it. Why? Because I was a boy, and I was told that is what boys do. I was severely degraded by peers and family alike for being more interested in books.
This is why I have no problem with pageants per se if the individual girls (or boys) are happy with them, enjoy performing in them, and get something positive out of it. I would instantly turn against any parents who compelled their kids to participate in anything they greatly disliked. I think pageants are fun to watch and admire when the participants are having fun. If I was watching a participant onstage that clearly wasn't enjoying it, or confided that to me offstage, I would instantly have a word with the judges and the parents.
This is why, I think, as youth liberationists we need to be for and against freedom of choice and a multitude of such choices being available for kids rather than for or against this or that institution, contest, etc in kind of absolutist sense. Let the kids decide, not their parents, not the government, and not even well-intentioned hypothetical paramours-admirers like us. And certainly not on the basis of whether or not based on how we may personally feel about any given activity etc.