Valley family defends toddler pageants

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Glitz and glamour and no shortage of drama. It's part of the fascination with TLC's reality show "Toddlers & Tiaras."

Ellie Granda has never known what it's like NOT to be in pageants.

"My friends at school, they think I'm like a celebrity," she said.

Ellie got her start before she could walk on stage.

"She was 6 months old so I was like, what can it hurt? And it's pretty much snowballed from there," said her dad, Christian Granda.   

Earlier this year, the Grandas were featured on the hit reality show "Toddlers & Tiaras." It's a show known for capturing more controversy than competition.

"And that's the sad part, 'Toddlers & Tiaras,' they want the drama," Christian Granda said. "You see the crazy people."

"We wanted people to see there are normal people who do this and it really is just for fun," Barbie Granda said.

And while fun may be the goal, clinical child psychologist Beth Onufrak worries these girls get mixed messages.

"Highly concerned for the future development of these children, for their self-esteem and their self-identity," she said.

The pressure to be perfect on stage means the contestants are forced to hide what most kids celebrate.

"If your front tooth fell out that day, then if it's a glitz pageant, you may want to wear teeth," Onufrak explained.

Barbie admits you have to be your best in order to compete.

"So if you're seeing missing teeth and you're standing up there in group lineup and you see this girl has perfect teeth and this girl has perfect teeth and then this girl looks like a jack-o'-lantern, you know because she's 7 or 6, it does take away from that total package," she said. 

The Grandas believe pageants are just like any other sport. Describing the fake teeth, fake fingernails and fake tans as necessary gear.

"Pee wee football, why do they need pads? Why do they need helmets? Why do some coaches say you need to lose a certain amount of weight to play? Same thing. That's what they need to compete," Christian said.

But Onufrak points out, "We don't have this controversy about tae kwon do or baseball, and in my view those are real talents and skills to work on."

Coincidentally, this new year, Ellie will focus on developing a specific skill.

"We've had to pick and choose now of what's more important, dance or pageants," Christian said. "Dance competition, she has a team that relies on her, she's not just the only one, she has to be there for her team."

The new season of "Toddlers & Tiaras" begins on Dec. 7 on TLC.