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Vital Signs

Little Bitty Pretty One

The television screen shows five-year-old Tara being awakened from a sound sleep at 6 a.m.  She has a beauty pageant to get ready for.  To shake off her sluggishness she is given a carb-rich donut and some caffeine-loaded Mountain Dew.

After “breakfast” Tara is dressed in a two-piece bathing suit and taken to a makeshift tent, where she endures a spray-on tan.  After that, it is, as her mother says, “magic time.”  Powder is applied to Tara’s face, along with rouge, lipstick, lip gloss, eyeshadow, and false eyelashes.  She holds out her tiny hands for tiny fake fingernails.  Glitter cream is rubbed on her arms and legs.  Hair rollers are removed (Tara slept the night in them), and her hair is worked into a fussy up-do, one made even more elaborate by the addition of a large, curly hairpiece.  Now come the earrings, always color-coordinated and sparkling.  (Tara does not yet compete wearing a “flipper,” a set of adult-size teeth that fit over a girl’s baby teeth.  The use of a flipper changes a child’s look profoundly.  The effect is unnatural to the point of creepiness.)

Finally, it’s time for the dress.  Pageant dresses are usually made in day-glo colors—the better to bring out a girl’s tan—and have rows and rows of stiffened tulle, along with endless sequins, beads, and even feathers.

Tara...

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