Behind the scenes of the secret world of children's beauty pageants

Behind the scenes of the secret world of children's beauty pageants

Darling Divas — Children's beauty pageants are a particular kind of spectacle, and something of a muse for photographer Colby Katz.

Beauty pageants have been around since the late 1800s, but the modern contest’s origin is traceable to the Miss America Pageant, which was first held in Atlantic City in 1921. A beauty pageant is a competition based mainly, though not entirely, on the physical beauty of its contestants, often incorporating personality, talent demonstrations and question responses as judged criteria. Pageants have always been fairly controversial events, especially children’s pageants, where young girls are often made-up to look and act years older than their actual age.

The Darling Divas series focuses on little girls from three months to eight-year-olds – an age when they’re likely too young to grasp the spectacle unfurling around them. The project is split in two sections. One is about the ritual of getting ready; a behind-the-scenes look at the girls picking out their clothes, getting dressed, and having their hair and make-up done. The second half of the project shows the girls posed inside hotel conference rooms and at home.

Pageants and pageant mom’s vary in style and purpose. At five years old, I was entered into my first beauty pageant by my mother. There wasn’t anything particularly fancy about it. My dress was bought off the rack at Walmart and make-up was not allowed. Over the succeeding years, we participated in more pageants until one day, when I was eight, and decided they weren’t for me. As my trophy count rose, so did the style of pageants I was entered into and now, I was at the glitz level. I was sick of having my curly hair ironed straight, over having to worry about getting my now expensive dresses dirty, and I refused to put blue glitter on my eyelids like my competition did. And so, one day I told my mom that I wanted to quit and preferred climbing trees. She had always dreamed of entering pageants or being a model but her parents wouldn’t allow it. Needless to say, she was a little disappointed with the news but let me leave the circuit just as quickly as I had arrived.

Years later, my experiences as a child have helped me to re-enter this very closed-off world. It’s interesting to now be an adult at these events but with a completely different perspective from those who I am photographing. And so, with an insider’s understanding, I am able to re-examine notions of feminine beauty and the complexities of girlhood. I am interested in how it is defined, challenged, and revered in modern society. I am interested in these young girls and how their experiences will affect them as adults. Will it be some-what positive like mine or will they forever feel like little dolls, always being judged?