Among the glitz and the glamour, the sequins and the hairspray, there are a few contestants on the pageant circuit not quite like the others. They're pageant boys, competing for crowns in a girls' world.
Tracy Miller says her son, Zander, is one of the best. "I'm always surprised when Zander wins," she said. "And we mainly do them for fun and because he enjoys doing it. So, it's just like, you know, you put your child in baseball or soccer or swimming. They enjoy doing it. So, this is what Zander enjoys."
The 6-year-old from Missouri has been competing since he was a baby.
"They're fun, and you get to win a bunch of trophies and crowns," Zander said.
On the hit show "Toddlers and Tiaras," Zander showed off his beauty regimen, which includes manicures and makeup. "I have to get in makeup to cover up my rashes and boo-boos," he said.
Even his 3-year-old brother, Casey, is competing now. The beautified brothers are among a small but growing number of boys competing on the pageant circuit. An estimated 10 percent of contestants are now boys, up from 5 percent five years ago.
Some boys take the stage mere days after being born. "Kevin did really well," one mother said of her 2-week-old son on "Toddlers and Tiaras." "He was awake and wasn't crying."
In some cases, pageant moms admit their sons are filling a void. "When I see little girls, I always think, I could turn my little boys into girls," another mom said. "These are my girls I never had!"
But Miller insists Zander is living out his own dream. "The people who say this is not for little boys need to wake up. We are in 2010. Heading into 2011. I honestly never thought I'd be doing pageants with my son. But he loves it. Everyone loves him."
Pageant boys are just the latest in a recent string of well-publicized reports of boys embracing their more feminine or creative sides.
This fall, 11-year-old Tyler Wilson was bullied for being the only boy on an all-girl cheerleading squad. "It feels horrible that they can't accept me for who I am," Wilson said. "It's my choice. If I want to be a cheerleader, I'm going to be a cheerleader."
'Some Children Like to Experiment'
Last month a 5-year-old from Seattle was dubbed "Princess Boy" because of his desire to wear dresses. His mother has even written a book about it that has ignited a gender feud online.
"The boy is doing nothing wrong except spitting in the face of what is 'normal'," one commenter wrote on YouTube in response to the "Princess Boy" video.
"He will be confused as to what's expected of him as a little boy," said another.
"These parents who want to change their children will never have the pleasure of knowing their kid for the unique individual they are," another wrote.
Ken Corbett, a psychoanalyst who specializes in gender issues said that while it can be alarming for some parents if their son wants to wear dresses, some children just like to experiment. "We don't want to jump to assumptions about any child," he said. "We cannot immediately assume that because a boy wants to be a girl that there is a psychological problem."
Corbett said parents like Angelina Jolie have taken the right approach, in allowing daughter Shiloh to wear stereotypically male clothing. She expressed her feelings to Reuters, saying, "I would never be the kind of parent to force somebody to be something they are not. I think that is just bad parenting. We live in a time where we have the great fortune to watch these kids emerge. I think children have a lot more freedom now than at any age."
But freedom can come at a price. These boys are often subjected to bullying and heartache, as in the film "Billy Elliot."
This week on "The View," pop star Ricky Martin spoke out about his struggle to come to terms with his identity. "It gets hard sometimes," he said, "but it gets really cool afterward. Accept yourself. It's very cool."
Miller said she's all too aware that Zander's involvement in pageants, as well as his interest in ballet and gymnastics, leads some to believe he'll one day come out as gay. But she's determined to let him decide his path.
"People will say, you know, he's just gonna be gay when he gets older. Well, you know what? If Zander is gay, so be it. Anything I do is not going to change Zander."
For now, Zander said, he's happy to pursue pageants and dream of a future that embraces all walks of life. "I wanna be an adventurist and a hunter and a pharmacist so I can pay for pageants," Zander said.