Nearly 15 years ago Brooke Breedwell was a 5-year-old beauty queen and the star of the documentary "Painted Babies." Now the 19-year-old is speaking out about how the need to win took a toll on her childhood and her relationship with her mother.
Former child beauty queen Brooke Breedwell speaks out about the pressure to win.
"Pageants have put a lot of stress and anxiety on my life," Breedwell explains. "I feel the need to be perfect at everything, and I know that's not realistic. You can't be perfect at everything."
Breedwell, now a sophomore at the University of Tennessee, said her mother was very involved in her pageant career. While pageants gave Breedwell confidence and poise, she says her mother pushed her too hard.
"I was just there wanting to be my best. I wanted to beat all the little girls," Breedwell said. "No matter what it took out of me."
That sentiment is still echoed in today's pageants. But now the stakes are higher and more money is up for grabs.
Mickie Wood, a former beauty queen herself, admits she too lives vicariously through her 4- year-old daughter, Eden, who has been competing since she was a year old.
Eden is one of the girls featured on TLC's reality show "Toddler's & Tiaras."
Wood says they have spent more than $70,000 on Eden's pageant career, including weekly spray tanning, photo sessions, coaching and dresses that cost up to $3,000.
Being the best doesn't come cheap. It's estimated that 250,000 children compete in more than 5,000 pageants in the United States each year, and pageant officials admit some families have gone into debt, even paying entry fees before paying the rent.
But Eden says she loves the competitions.
"I like the makeup, and I like hair spray," Eden said. "Makeup makes me happy. I like being pretty on stage with my makeup on."
"Good Morning America" first spoke to the Wood family last month when we visited Eden in her small Arkansas town. It was obvious she'd found her calling, the Wood's home is full of hundreds of trophies and crowns.
When asked which one is her favorite, Eden pointed to one crown and said, "This one, because it's so big."
19-year-old former beauty queen Brooke Breedwell.
But some "GMA" viewers were outraged by Eden's story.
One online comment read "Children who are taught that their beauty will get them what they want in life grow up to be very shallow people."
"If that was all we did and we were constantly in the mirror primping, if she was overzealous about her appearance, but I don't see that and if I ever did see that I would put a stop to it," she said. "I want her to be well rounded and balanced. It's just not all about beauty."
But the comments still came flooding in.
"These children are being denied their childhoods because of their parents needs to fulfill their own dreams," read another online comment.
"Parents enjoy showcasing their kids, and what is wrong with that? What is wrong with showcasing to the world, here is my beautiful daughter or my beautiful son? As long as you keep it in a positive aspect, I don't think anything is wrong with that," Wood said.
Wood says her daughter is not missing out "on friends, on playing, on school."
But Brooke Breedwell did feel like she was missing out. She quit pageants when she was 7 because of the pressure.
"I think the most important thing in doing pageants is doing them for the right reasons," Breedwell said. "You have to know what you want to do with your life and focus on those skills you want to build on."
A Former Beauty Queen Takes 'GMA' Behind the Scenes of Pageants - ABC News