Portraits of child beauty pageant participants

 Guest 2009 07 08 Highglitz Jacket 060209 Highglitttt

Photographer Susan Anderson took a series of absolutely surreal portraits of young children participating in beauty pagents. She compiled the work in a book, High Glitz: The Extravagant World of Child Pageants. You can view many of the images on Anderson's site as well. (Or, right now at the Kopeikin Gallery in Los Angeles.) From the powerHouse Books site:
Beautypageeee "High Glitz" is a subgenre of child beauty pageants characterized by couture "glitz" costumes and a broad array of cosmetic preparations including, among other tricks of the trade: glamour makeup, elaborate hairstyles, and "flippers" (false front teeth veneers). Anderson's stunning visuals are complimented by a "High Glitz Style Guide," defining and providing examples of the following categories: Beauty/ Formal Wear, Western Wear, Sportswear, and Swimwear, with a special section on hairstyles such as the "Barbie" and the "Up-do."

Each year as many as 100,000 children under the age of 12 participate in U.S. child beauty pageants, and it has recently become a billion-dollar industry. Parents invest thousands of dollars on costumes and private coaches to give their children a competitive edge. Countless hours are spent by professional hair and makeup artists on each child in preparation for the competition. The girls are spray-tanned, made-up, and groomed to a glossy perfection. Anderson captures the results of this time-consuming transformation process in exquisite detail.
High Glitz: The Extravagant World of Child Pageants (Amazon, thanks Bob Pescovitz!)


  1. Looking at these photos is like watching snuff films.

    There was once a person there, now it’s gone. Fascinating and horrible.

  2. The girl in the third picture is a probably a clone of the woman in the birther video a few posts back. neither look human.

    I think we’ve discovered it’s larval stage.

  3. And somehow this is not considered child abuse. Having perused the gallery, in a watching-the-train-wreck sort of way, I’m now going to go wash my eyes out with soap.

  4. No better way to insure your kid has body-image issues when she grows up. Why oh why can’t I be a size 4T again?

  5. As far as I am concerned this is totally child abuse not only in forcing your child to do this, the countless hours doing makeup and hair etc but also that they are making CHILDREN look like adults. Often there is a sexual element to the makeup (isn’t that why women use it anyway) and there is also often a swimsuit section to the competition.

    My point is that these are the people who complain about parents taking photos of their own kids at the park, calling them pedophiles and such, and then they are the ones dressing their kids provocatively and (trying) to make them look like sexy adults

    I think it is sick and that kids should be banned from entering beauty contests till they are of an appropriate age to understand the consequences or at least have very clearly defined rules stating what is and isn’t “child-like” in terms of clothes, makeup and posing, so we don’t inadvertantly turn these kids into pedo-bear’s wet dream

  6. Ye gods; dead behind the eyes, looking like they’re made out of plastic; have we stumbled on the same place that Miley Cyrus came from?

  7. Ah the romance of the Stepford wives meets baby gulag. WTF is wrong with the parents? If the wanted dolls they should have bought dolls and not Effed up a child’s life.

  8. Even more disturbing than the gratuitous overuse of frosted pink lipstick (and the whole concept in general): one of the girls appeared to have cleavage airbrushed in, either as body makeup or in as post-production work done to the photo. Seriously, what is wrong with these parents?

  9. So now I have kiddy pr0n on my harddisk. Thanks a mill. Remember to flush your cache, my fellow boingers.

  10. In seeing how our society’s values of beauty, glamour, and celebrity are reflected in the hopes and dreams of thousands of young girls, we come to see that these pageants are a reflection of American culture itself.

    In seeing how our society’s values of beauty, glamour, and celebrity are reflected in the hopes and dreams of thousands of histrionic parents…

    I fixed it for them.

  11. Hey, it’s already a billon-dollar industry, so why shouldn’t a photographer try to grab a piece of it? Putting it on BB is a great start. Nice work!

  12. Looks like their mothers are still playing Barbie, but with live children now. Most of them look really unhappy, too.

    1. Yes, that’s it exactly, it’s as though they’re androids.
      I can’t begin to imagine what is real about them. . .where the human starting point was.

  13. It would actually be less creepy if these were pictures of RealDoll products. At least then no human beings would be treated like toys.

  14. I needed a unicorn chaser as soon as I read the headline, never mind actually seeing the photos. Though I would sort of like to know how they judge the winner of a beauty pagent in which all the entries are essentially monstrous perversions of childhood. Do they pick the least horrible (ie. the ones who actually look the best to most sane people) or the most?

    I also have to wonder how many of these people realize they are putting their kids through what amounts to a dog show…

    Personally, I categorize this as a form of child abuse.

  15. Warren Ellis’s Whitechapel blog used to have a category for horrible things found around the net. These kid-bots are creepier than a lot of the stuff displayed there.

  16. I just want to point out – I have a 9-year-old daughter, and she DREAMS about doing this. I’ve taken her for the odd pedicure or haircut and while I can’t get to her be quiet for five minutes while I’m on the phone, she can hold absolutely still for half an hour when her nail polish is wet. Try to brush her hair for school and she shrieks, but pull, tease and spray it for a “fancy” hairdo and she’s meek as a lamb.

    I would never in a million years subject my kid to this kind of competition more because my kid and I both have better things to do with our lives (like anything else, really), but if I showed her one of these pictures and asked her if she’d want to look like that, she’d snap it up in a minute.

    We don’t have television, we read tons of books, my husband and I are both well-educated and have good jobs. This isn’t something she “learned” at our house. It’s something she is. Like many other little girls, she likes to look fancy, and in the mind of a child, the more shiny, glittery, ruffly, sparkly and pouffy you are, the fancier. Don’t blame the parents. You don’t get this effect without some complicity from a willing kid.

    1. A lot of little girls dream about it and like looking fancy, but to actually look like this it goes way way way beyond an intricate updo. They like to look like movie stars, princesses, and fantasize about what it must be like to be grown up. This is normal. Corset training your 6 year old, airbrushing cleavage on her, and putting fake teeth in her mouth so she looks like a woman though is that point where your judgment as an adult should come in.

      As a kid I would have eaten chocolate candy bars 24/7 in lieu of regular food if some one didn’t keep me from it.

  17. Little Miss Sunshine is a good movie, and I recommend it too, but I don’t think it’s hard enough on the child beauty pageant scene, as the girl in it seems fairly well adjusted, happy and like she’s got a chance at a normal life once the movie ends. At least that’s my recollection of it.

  18. I can only imagine that when parents get their kids involved in this sort of thing, they don’t intend to have it go this far. They have a kid who, like Junglemonkey’s, likes to wear pretty dresses and fancy hair. I’m sure they think it will be some harmless fun. Then little by little they get drawn into the completive nature of the pageants and the next thing you know they are spending figuring out how to hide the bill for $2000 in pageant cloths from their spouse and hiring a coach to make their daughter into one of the Midwich Cuckoos.

    To contemplate that someone might start off wanting this for their daughter is more then my brain can accept.

  19. You know there’s something terribly off when a kid looks ‘wrong’ holding a puppy. And half-an-hour spent making sure the pink glittery nail polish doesn’t smear is not 10 hours blinking carefully so the mascara doesn’t need to be re-done. And by the way — no drinking, because sweating under hot lights is bad and can be avoided, and the costume might get messed up in the bathroom stall. Been there, hated that.

  20. I’ve watched the Toddlers & Tiaras a couple times out of morbid curiosity. My overwhelming impression is that the mothers really, REALLY wanted to be beauty queens themselves. Yuk, ick, eew, groddy, nasty, ick.

    These parents can’t even begin to imagine the damage they’re doing to their kids.

  21. The one that freaked me the most was the kid in the flag costume with the french tipped nails. Now that was just nasty.

  22. Don’t blame the parents. You don’t get this effect without some complicity from a willing kid.

    Don’t blame the parents? Ri-i-i-ght, every typical 4 year old dashes out and signs up for a beauty pageant, purchases all that make-up and tinselled frocks, self-trains to do that all-too-adult hip thrust whilst singing an age-inappropriate song full of double entendres.

    There’s a difference between playing dress-up and being whored out to an audience of failed Miss America wannabees living their crushed fantasies through their daughters. Stage mothers throughout time have forced their children into acquiescence by making love conditional. It isn’t that difficult to manoeuvre a child into obedience.

  23. Junglemonkey’s got it. Little girls commonly aspire to be big girls. Why do you think Barbies outsell baby dolls?

    Hell, why do you think grown women (and crossed-dressed men) fiddle with make-up and such? Because it’s fun? (Oh, no, couldn’t possibly be fun. Must be some neurosis.)

    These pageants have been around long enough that some former participants are now grown women, and if there were some horrible sequelae, you’d think we’d have heard about them. But I only found two articles on the subject: a news article that suggested that ex-child beauty pageant participants were about as happy as other women their age and a rather small but more formal study that said they “scored higher on body dissatisfaction, interpersonal distrust, and impulse dysregulation than non-participants,” but about the same on bulimia, body perception, depression, and self-esteem. (And, given that the latter was published in the journal Eating Disorders, it’s not a stretch to suppose that its authors were looking for some bad news about the long-term effects of child beauty pageants–and still found a pretty slim downside.)

    This only seems too sexual or affected for this age group if you think non-pageant girls spend all their time playing with My Little Ponies and coloring books, little bundles of slack-jawed cluelessness who never dress up–either on their own initiative or someone else’s. (NOW used to have a poster that featured a little girl in dress, with the caption: Help, I’m being held captive in a blue dotted Swiss!)

    It’s a mistake to think pageant girls are more sexualized than other girls–from their point of view (and that of their folks), they’re probably just being encouraged to be pretty and cute, and doing some female bonding with Mom. In fact, if the parents thought it was intended to be sexual, they wouldn’t be doing it. And they sure as hell wouldn’t be doing it as a public event.

    The equation [(intentionally pretty) = (whorish)] is really discouraging. Any woman past puberty has had the experience of walking down the street initially feeling attractive and good about herself–and being hassled like a piece of meat by the time she got to the corner. But you’d think little girls who just want to play dress-up would be spared that.

  24. Those photos are very good…the expressions are so complex. I love the half-smiles, the sort of subtle desperation in some of the faces, and I love the way she chose to photograph some of them from behind or with their faces turned. The entire collection strikes me as very tragic and twisted.

    I feel sad that some girls honestly want to look like this, or that some parents pressure them to do these pageants. But I don’t agree that these things encourage pedophilia; I doubt most pedophiles want children that look like miniature adults. Saying that the parents are responsible if their child becomes a victim of such a crime seems a bit like blaming the victims of rape for “dressing provocatively.” If I remember correctly, most child abuse is committed by someone the child already knows, not someone who saw them in the park and thought they looked glamorous.

  25. “It’s a mistake to think pageant girls are more sexualized than other girls– from their point of view”

    It is a mistake to think molested girls *think* they are more sexualized while they are still children as well. That’s the thing, no matter what they are children.

  26. Blueelm – Do you understand that there’s a difference between being in a pageant and being molested?

  27. Ok, if it’s not traumatic for the children, then can we ban stuff like this on the basis that it’s traumatic for the adults? Little girls might think they’re only playing dress-up, but *my* soul is scarred for life. Ok? Awesome.

  28. I see that I am not the only person who is disturbed by these images and even the concept of this book (thank gad). In the blurb it notes: “…these pageants are a reflection of American culture itself.” Since when does American culture cater to pedophiles?

  29. Placing hands over eyes – watching the kid in Little Miss Sunshine do her dance – Alan Arkin helped her – all is okay with the world – flush – flush – flush.

    That and a gallon of vodka should help wash this shit away.

  30. Wow, these little girls are spending time with their parents, entering competitions, and being judged on their physical attributes. How gross.

    They should instead join a soccer league , or pee wee football, or baseball, or swimming. At least then they could spend time with their parents, enter competitions, and be judged by their physical attributes.

  31. For all of you who think you know the world you are commenting on I would recommend buying the book and reading the two insightful essays about this world and Susan’s work specifically. There is a lot more of interest than the Jon Benet tragedy, blaming the parents or any of the other knee jerk reactions that have commonly followed the posting of these pictures. By-the-way, this is ART and meant to hang in a gallery, Museum and on someone’s wall. Like any good art it is a multi-layered commentary on the society in which it was produced. So while there are many questions and reactions brought out by looking at this work, any judgements made are best done in front of a mirror.

  32. My life as a dress-up doll for my micromanaging, obsessive parent who had nothing better to do than live vicariously through me.

  33. “By-the-way, this is ART and meant to hang in a gallery, Museum and on someone’s wall.”

    No, this is not art.

    You are placing a child in a position where her worth is based on her physical appearance. If you think that this is not abusive, YOU need to look in a mirror.

    Girls already have millions of signals of sexuality flying at them, and they are constantly hit with a barrage of messages that say “You are either pretty, or no one loves you”.

    You can try to justify it by calling it “art”. Pedophiles do the same thing, ya know.

    But the truth is that this is nothing more than taking a young, developing mind and programming it to rate physical beauty with utmost importance.

    So I’ll stand by my judgment thanks. If you subject your daughter to this, you are a BAD parent.

  34. What do you mean the photo’s and the book are not art but are abusive?
    That’s like saying that a painting of Mount St. Helens is the same as blowing up a mountain.
    Unless you are talking about nailing actual children to a wall like they were Chris Burden.

    1. Really Hep cat? You can’t see the difference between painting a natural disaster from memory or fantasy, and forcing/convincing little girls to act as adults in order to take pictures of them? No difference?

  35. What’s disturbing to me is that Anderson doesn’t seem to find child beauty pageants problematic. In fact, the essays in her book by Simon Doonan and Robert Greene dismiss concerns that most reasonable people would have about the exploitation and sexualization of these girls.

    Check out this video where Anderson’s co-author Simon Doonan (who you could easily mistake for Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Bruno”) refers to the pageants as “life-affirming” and “fabulous.” Anderson has been similarly dismissive. Somehow I doubt this is a put-on.

  36. I am a beauty pageant queen. i love pageants. they are all i think about. I do understand how cruel it is for some of the pareants to live through there kids. but i do them for fun. i love the feeling of being beutiful. i go on stage and kick butt. pageants have given me grace self confindence love beauty and scholarship money. i have won so much money its crazy. please rethink about beauty pageants. they are my life i love them!!!!!!!!!!!!

  37. this is discusting this has to be child abuse i dont knw how da parents can justify wot they r duin 2 ther daughters its wrong.

  38. Pageants aren’t that bad. All parents want stuff for there kids they they didn’t have. To be a cheerleader, football star, or… to be in pageants and have all eyes on them. Parents wanna see their child shine. It’s what every parent does.

  39. Someone hit the nail on the head that this is a perversion of childhood. Not to mention subjecting young girls to judgement based on how they look. Isn’t there time enough when they have to be exposed to that as women?

    Not only am I disgusted by parading girls around in this sexualized manner, but I am against women being paraded around in grown up contests the same way. Both are equally disgusting in my view. And we all know that the emphasis in these contest is LOOKS and not talent and poise.

  40. I am 25 years old and I’ve done pageants since I was 4 my mother or anyone else NEVER ONCE made me do anything I didn’t want to do she entered me in one pageant and as she said she “opened a can of worms” some how I got put on a mailing list and would check the mail box first thing after school and if there was a pageant form in there I would pester my mom until she finally let me enter it I’ve always loved picking out my dresses and fixing up, all little girls love to play dress up it gave me a chance to play dress up everyone see me being on stage gave me a lot of confidence and made me the sucessful person I am today my daughter has recently become intrested in pageants my daughter had 10X more fun at the store trying on all the pretty shiny dresses than I’ve ever seen her at the zoo

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