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I watch the TLC Channel often. It's largely reality TV looking at real-life people and situations.

I enjoy watching "Jon and Kate Plus 8," the series that follows Jon and Kate Gosselin from Elizabethtown, Lancaster County, who are raising twin daughters and sextuplets (three boys and three girls). I am also intrigued by "17 Kids and Counting," which features Michelle and Jim Bob Duggar of Arkansas, who just welcomed their 18th child, a girl, before Christmas and saw their eldest child, a son, get married in September.

I can only ask myself in watching these two families — how do they do it?

One show that caught my eye through commercial promotions over the past two weeks is "Toddlers and Tiaras." The show was broadcast at 9 p.m. Sunday and again at midnight Monday. A series of the same name is slated to start Jan. 27. The channel's Web site, http://tlc.discovery.com/, describes the show like this: "On any given weekend in a hotel ballroom somewhere in the US, you may find a group of little girls parading around on stage in heavy makeup, weighed down by heavily sequined dresses. They're there for one of the hundreds of beauty pageants held every year."

I had to work the Sunday evening shift, so I only caught the last 15 minutes of the midnight broadcast. I've seen shows about child pageants before — one had broadcast on the E! channel some time ago — and I'm always taken back about these little girls' appearances. Some are as young as 1 or 2, but many of them featured are between the ages of 6 and 11. They are dolled up in taffeta- and sequined-ladened dresses, heavily sprayed hair extensions and false eyelashes. One little girl was even seen getting a spray-on tan during the commercial promo. Some even wear fake upper teeth plates to show off a complete smile rather than gaps from the loss of their baby teeth.

The fake plates really bother me. They make these little girls look, well, fake.

Some of the girls' mothers are more enthusiastic about the pageants than their daughters and are willing to do whatever it takes to help their daughters win. They stand in the audience, cheering their little girls on and mimicking the moves that the girls are to do on stage before a panel of judges. During TV interviews, some of these women mention spending thousands of dollars a year on wardrobes and pageant fees.

I realize that there are child pageants out there that aren't as glitzy as those portrayed on these shows. They are contests that require a natural look. It's just shocking to see these little ones looking like little dolls and miniature adults.

That point was brought up by 11-year-old Sasha Bennington, a British girl who is an aspiring model and became the first British child to compete in a child beauty pageant in America. Her story was featured at 1 a.m. Monday on TLC in a show titled "Pre-teen Beauty Queen." Sasha mentioned upon watching pageant videos that the girls looked like "Barbie dolls."

Sasha, however, looks much older than 11. Her mother, a former model, bleaches the girl's hair platinum blonde. When Sasha wears makeup and fancy clothes, she looks at least 16. During the competition in Texas, however, she actually looked okay. She didn't have the big, puffy hair like some of the other girls and her makeup wasn't overly done. In her first U.S. competition, she won trophies for her portfolio, talent and another category and ended up finishing first runner-up.

What are your thoughts on child beauty pageants? The subject seems to bring a variety of opinions. Some whose children enter these pageants say it helps their child with their self-esteem and confidence. Others object to the idea of these little girls looking much older than they are.

 This Saturday, a local youngster will be crowned the 2009 Snowdrop Princess of the Greater Pottsville Winter Carnival. The 40-plus little girls in second and third grades will don white dresses and participate in the pageant's festivities in the Pottsville Area High School auditorium.

This pageant is nothing like the ones featured on "Toddlers and Tiaras." Letters to the Editor written by Carole Lee, Snowdrop Princess chairwoman, in the past two years seeking contestants note that the pageant is a great opportunity for the youngsters to have a great time and make new friends. In 2007, one of the suggestions was "All that is required is a little girl with a dream of becoming a princess."

I've never attended the Snowdrop/Snowflake Princess Pageant before, but working for the newspaper I've seen the photos taken during the events. The little girls always look so sweet and pretty — not overly done. They look like they have a lot of fun as well at the post-pageant party at the Pottsville Club.

My daughter and I will be going to watch the pageant this weekend. A daughter of my husband's cousin is a Snowdrop contestant, so we're going to cheer her on and offer our support. And who knows? I might even have a Snowdrop contestant on my hands in a few years.