Child Beauty Pageants: Fun or Fiendish?

ByABC News via GMA logo
August 21, 2006, 11:08 AM

Aug 21, 2006 — -- Child beauty pageants are alive and well, with more than a quarter million kids competing each year.

But with renewed focus on the murder of pageant queen JonBenet Ramsey and the growth of the pageant industry, critics wonder if pageants may be attracting unsavory elements.

When the Ramsey story first broke 10 years ago, it was fueled in no small measure by the pictures of 6-year-old JonBenet in makeup and Las Vegas showgirl outfits.

Many were repulsed, saying pageants sexualized little girls.

But some parents apparently liked what they saw.

Carl Dunn, CEO of Pageantry Magazine, says he was inundated with calls. "It created tremendous growth at [that] point in time. A lot of events came into existence. So it had a very positive effect at that time."

Ten years later, business is still booming.

For pedophiles, that's great news, with pageants offering a potential goldmine of images of children like JonBenet.

"I would venture to guess that her image is certainly in a lot of collections across the world," says Mark Gado, a police detective in New Rochelle, N.Y.

Gado has investigated pedophile cases for 10 years and has just written a book about a pedophile priest. He says there's no proof that pedophiles use these events to find children to assault.

"Parents, I believe, have nothing to fear putting their children in these types of child pageants," says Gado.

The larger question for parents may be whether these contests help or hurt a child's self-esteem.

A new movie, "Little Miss Sunshine," about a family whose daughter gets into a child beauty pageant, pokes fun at this subculture.

Many, if not most, parenting experts say these contests can be emotionally damaging for kids.

But Thumper Gosney, a former Little Miss Texas who was in many pageants alongside JonBenet Ramsey, remembers her time as a child beauty queen fondly.

"We were 5 years old. We just competed together. It was great."