Miss World New Zealand Collette Lochore is fronting a new beauty pageant for girls aged 11 and up - and she couldn't care less what critics say.
Lochore, 18, has been touring Auckland schools recruiting for her Miss Junior New Zealand contest, which has a $1000 first prize. A leading eating disorder expert criticised the competition as "risky". However, Lochore defended her pageant - which has a $700 sponsorship entry fee - as harmless fun. She had already received "hundreds" of inquiries from around the country.
"I understand some people have reservations about girls as young as 11 taking part but I am ready for the flak," Lochore told the Herald on Sunday.
"It is not like I'm running something like the controversial American reality show Toddlers in Tiaras ... Being involved with beauty contests has boosted my confidence and self-esteem and given me some good direction in life. That is something I would like to pass on to others."
Lochore said she was looking for girls of all sizes, shapes and ethnic backgrounds and insisted contestants wouldn't be judged solely on physical attributes.
"There will be no swimwear section or revealing outfits and we don't want kids who have been cake-faced in make-up by their parents."
However, Victoria Marsden, a specialist counsellor in body image and eating disorders with Auckland Psychology, said 11 was "very, very young" for girls to be involved. "By that age body image tends to already be an issue with young girls ... This is a very risky idea."
The Miss Junior New Zealand final is set for April at a venue still to be decided.By Russell Blackstock Email Russell