PLAYING AT PAGEANTS

IN THE STRANGE WORLD OF CHILDREN'S BEAUTY CONTESTS, TINY TOTS IN PRETTY DRESSES MEAN BIG BUSINESS

By now, the surreal videotapes have become hauntingly familiar. Look at the face: the huge, inviting mascaraed eyes, the fluttering false lashes, the layers of professionally applied makeup, the highlighted, upswept hair. Look at the clothes: the hand-stitched gowns, the Princess Di chapeaus, the high heels. Then do a double take over the teensy stick-figure bodies and the immature voices belting out God Bless America and Tomorrow. Like some human optical illusion, JonBenet Ramsey and her besequinned fellow beauty-pageant contestants are not in fact fully developed adults. They are pint-size little women often done up like trick ponies.

Nearly three weeks...

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