Carnival’s child queen problematic

Seven-year-old Julia Lira - Photo courtesy of AP Photo/Felipe Dana

Every year, Rio de Janeiro puts on a display of magnificent proportions to kick off the Lenten season.

In their own version of Mardi Gras, the Rio Carnival is said to be “one of the greatest shows on Earth.”

One of the highlights of this celebration is the Carnival Parade, featuring samba–dancing schools, colorful floats, music and the illustrious drum corps queen.

The drum corps queen is usually a young woman who, as her name suggests, leads the drum corps in the parade. Many participants view the role of drum corps queen to be a sexual one, one that emphasizes the body. However, this year, the drum corps queen was a seven–year–old named Julia Lira.

The little girl was dressed in a sequined cropped top and purple feathered mini skirt, as well as a tiara and other fancy jewelry while she led the Viradouro samba parade. Her appearance in this role has sparked debates all over Brazil, concerning whether she is too young to be portrayed in this light.

Her appearance has even been subjected to a court case, though a judge overruled a child–rights agency arguing that Julia was too young to be placed in a role with such a sexual focus.

Not everyone feels that Julia was wronged. Many audience members and parade participants said that the role is not a sexual one and that “every school has the right to innovate and to put the artist of its choice at the head of the corps, be it a woman with a gorgeous body or an innocent and marvelous child.”

The sexualizing of Julia (or lack thereof) may not even be the main factor in discussing the girl’s role as queen.  When camera crews and news reporters swarmed Julia, “she burst into tears.”

I don’t think she was crying because she felt sexualized or thought that her seven–year–old body was being exploited; I think poor Julia was crying because she’s seven and was thrust into a spotlight not meant for seven–year–olds.

Yes, she was dressed in a way that did exploit her little, undeveloped figure; she was shown that the idea that women are only as valuable as they look is true for every age group. I think it’s wrong to show such a young girl that dressing in a skimpy outfit makes her popular and a headliner.

However, I think it’s even worse to subject a seven–year–old to the media frenzy that surrounds these kinds of events. With over 730,000 tourists visiting for the parade, plus the full–time Brazilian residents in attendance, Julia went from a little girl to a phenomenon.

Think back to when you were seven.

Did you feel comfortable being in front of large groups of people?

Did you enjoy presenting your projects on the water cycle to your class?

I doubt it.

Seven–year–olds are not known for their stage-presence.

The debate shouldn’t be over the sexualizing of Julia, it should be over the decision to use her as queen in the first place. If a queen is supposed to symbolize sex, then it should be obvious from the beginning that a seven–year–old is not an appropriate queen.

Julia should not have had to be bombarded with so many camera flashes and reporter microphones, especially when she’s had no prior connection with show business; it’s not fair to thrust someone so young into a role she has never had before. The needs of this young girl should have been addressed before the needs of the parade.

Julia should be sitting at home, eating some cereal and watching the parade on TV, thinking about how cool it would be if she could be queen when she’s 10 or 20 years older.

And she should definitely be wearing a longer shirt.