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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...