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Living Dolls: The Making of a Child Beauty Queen (2001)

Documentary about the subculture of child beauty pageants (usually restricted to girls no older than 5), showing the lengths to which some parents will go to ensure that their children win these pageants...



Won 1 Primetime Emmy. Another 1 win & 4 nominations. See more awards »


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Credited cast:
Swan Brooner ...
Robin Browne ...
Herself (swan's mother)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Himself - Host
Tim Whitmer ...


Documentary about the subculture of child beauty pageants (usually restricted to girls no older than 5), showing the lengths to which some parents will go to ensure that their children win these pageants...

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis







Release Date:

13 May 2001 (USA)  »

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Technical Specs



Aspect Ratio:

1.37 : 1
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Did You Know?


Leslie Butler: I told you I could win something.
See more »


Referenced in Little Miss Sunshine (2006) See more »

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User Reviews

femininity as a performance
9 May 2004 | by See all my reviews

After viewing Living Dolls, I am now aware of how femininity is a performance. The little girls featured in this documentary showed how certain characteristics of femininity are learned and then performed. During this performance at beauty pageants, little girls are taught to be erotic and are sexualized in order to promote what is called `the total package'. The film exposed the way it could be seen as the parents of these contestants promote the commodification of their children. Watching the actions of the girls participating in the pageant, we can identify the ways class, race, and sexuality intersects in the production of the `total package'.

The girls are objectified then and then play into the notion of being surveyed by the male gaze, where you become a spectacle based the male perspective. But they are not only viewed on the male gaze, we take note how other females also survey each other. The main goal of the contestants in the pageant is to achieve the total package, consisting of modeling a well fit dress, heavy use of makeup, personality based on how they react to the judges. Families will go out of their way to achieve this goal by having fake teeth made to cover where the girl may have lost her tooth, and custom make outfits. The girls learn the value of competition by watching tapes of their rivals performing and criticizing them. By doing so, they learn what to do and what not to do once on stage. This shows how the girls are constructed and splits to be a surveyor of her by looking at herself from a male perspective. The girl begins to internalize herself. The girls are taught to be sexual at such a young pre-sexual age. With practice, they develop the skills to relate erotically to their performance on stage. Stage outfits consist of flashy apparel and slits in the costumes. For the actual performance, the girls are sexualizing their singing and learn how to dance in such a manner. Their routines flaunt erotic and sexualized characteristics, which help them to achieve the total package. Race, class, and sexuality are clearly depicted in the pageant. The majority of these contestants have blonde hair and blue eyes. The maturity of speaking, vocabulary, and diction of the children identify them as being in a particular class. It is also apparent through the clothes the girls model and the stylists that come to the pageants that they must be of a middle to upper economic class. In contrast, educationally, one would put them into a lower class. This is evident from their inability to understand what they are doing to their children. Sexuality is represented when they cut the talent portion of the pageants, yet the modeling portions and the section where the lounge singer sings to the girls remained. This section with the lounge singer displays how these young girls masquerade their femininity on stage. Eroticism is depicted when she sways seductively to the music, smiles invitingly, and the batting of her eyelashes towards him.

This whole segment shows the adult sexualization of these young contestants. The film reproduces existing stereotypes of femininity. This is a performance that is socially learned. Through practice, this behavior is learned and applied to the performing on stage in the pageants, as well as other areas in life. A woman may accentuate her femininity in order to attain something she desires. For example, flaunt her femininity to receive a certain position in the work force. The concept of femininity as a performance, teaches us about gender roles and how they can be interchangeable. Since this is a learned characteristic and performance, we shouldn't assign roles. A woman can be masculine and a man can be feminine as well. The pageant shows little girls having erotic and sexualized characteristics, which help them reach their goal of wining a pageant title.

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