There's something about seeing a 6-year-old girl made up to look like an overly enthusiastic 18-year-old beauty queen that makes most people feel uncomfortable. So when America got its first glimpse of slain beauty-queen-in-training JonBenet Ramsey on Dec. 26, 1996, the question after the obvious "Whodunit?" was probably "What the hell was going on here?" Those who had no idea that Little Miss Colorado pageants even existed were shocked to learn that such displays of prepubescent glamour occurred across the country, fueling a multimillion dollar industry of hand-sewn gowns, professional cosmetics, consultants and stylists.
Ramsey's life and death seemed to illustrate all too well the consequences of parental manipulation and child exploitation. In the months that followed Ramsey's murder, the number of child beauty pageants plummeted. "It was like her being a beauty queen was the reason for her death," one mother lamented.