It started (where else?) in America. Now young British boys are competing in model contests, egged on by ambitious parents...
Strutting his stuff on stage, Max Bennington was proud to look just like his idol, pop star Peter Andre.
With his highlighted hair arranged just so, his bronzed torso bared and his jeans worn rakishly low on his hips, he belted out a Boyzone hit to impress the judges.
Later, Max paraded in a white suit and bow tie, twirling around to show off his physique. If you got up close, you could even catch a whiff of his designer aftershave.
Sadly, an unseemly tiff with another contestant put paid to Max's chances of winning this particular talent contest.
Not just a pretty boy? Mitchell Kemp, aged 12, is an aspiring young model
But then, as he - like many of the other participants - was just ten years old, perhaps it wasn't surprising there were some backstage scuffles.
Young Max was taking part in a disturbing trend that has come from the U.S. and is sweeping Britain: male beauty pageants, where boys as young as two gyrate on stage in a crude and alarming approximation of male sexuality.
While many people feel that, at best, such events teach children to be concerned only with their looks, at worst, it makes them a chilling target for paedophiles.
Depressingly, however, such pageants are now attracting contestants in their droves, with parents desperate for their children to get stage experience in preparation to become the future stars of shows such as Britain's Got Talent and The X Factor.
Max's mother, Jayne Harris, is one such parent. Before entering Max into these contests, she was happily supporting her daughter Sasha's beauty pageant career.
The family live in a four-bedroomed detached house near Manchester. Jayne, 33, works as a beauty therapist, while her husband, Martin, is a builder.
He is fully supportive of his family's obsession with pageants, which, with hotel and travel bills, cost them £600 a time. Max or Sasha take part in several each year, so the figures soon add up.
And far from expressing doubts over her decision to allow her children to become real-life miniature Barbie and Kens, Jayne insists such contests are simply innocent fun, and that they enjoy them.
'Max asked me if there was anything he could enter,' she says. 'It was because he'd seen his big sister doing the pageants that he got interested.'
Max was seven when he took part in his first one - the Little Miss and Mr British Isles 2006, dressed in top hat and tails. He beat five other boys in the final, and walked away with the top prize of a scooter and a day at a theme park.
Then two years ago, Jayne took Sasha, now 13, and Max to the U.S., where she boasts that they became the first British children to take part in an American beauty pageant. Sasha came second in her category, while Max came first.
'Max showed poise and talent, despite his injuries. He can really walk the walk and talk the talk. What were the judges thinking? Max should have won'
In 2008, he came second in the Mini-Mr competition at Milton Keynes for boys aged eight to ten.
Last year, he won a preliminary Prince Charming competition for boys up to the age of 13, hence his appearance at the grand final at Canary Wharf, London.
Jayne says proudly: 'He's a naturally good-looking boy, and he's a very good singer. I really expected him to win. He looks like a model.
'Max has his hair highlighted, and I buy him gel so he can wear it spiked. We recently went on holiday to Turkey, and Max had a henna tattoo done in the style of Peter Andre's.
'He's tanned from the holiday, and he likes to look good. He's used to having all the girls after him.'
A few weeks before the Prince Charming finals, however, disaster struck. Max was playing on his scooter when the brakes failed. He landed face down on a concrete path, smashing his front teeth and knocking his jaw out of place.
He needed emergency medical dentistry, and his teeth are currently being held in place with wiring. He will eventually have to have his front teeth capped, and could need corrective surgery on his jaw.
Jayne says: 'This is the worst thing that could have happened. He's very upset and has been in a lot of pain.
'Obviously, I immediately thought about the competition. I didn't say anything, but just got his clothes ready for it and waited to see what he wanted.'
Max decided to remain in the Prince Charming show despite his injuries, hoping that the judges would give him extra marks for bravery.
In the event, a six-year-old called Cole won. He was given a trophy, dressed in a prince's crown and robe, and presented with a bouquet of flowers.
Posing: Max Bennington, aged 10, hopes his talent will take him far
Families are charged hundreds of pounds to enter, but there was no cash prize. With several regional heats and scores of contestants, shows can make thousands of pounds for the companies in charge.
Jayne - who paid £180 to the organisers of UK Cinderella (who run the Prince Charming shows) for Max to enter the competition - is unable to hide her disgust at this most recent result.
She believes her son deserved to win and has questioned the judges' decision. UK Cinderella has now offered him the role of boys' ambassador.
'Cole didn't deserve to win,' says Jayne. 'He won just because he was cute. He didn't show any talent and had no ability on the catwalk whatsoever.
'Max showed poise and talent, despite his injuries. He can really walk the walk and talk the talk. I don't know what the judges were thinking. Max should have won.'
The boys are expected to demonstrate 'talent' in some form, be it singing, playing an instrument or dancing. They also have to show off their skills on the catwalk, and give an interview, including answering general knowledge questions.
Pageants advertise for contestants on websites such as Stars In My Eyes, or Star Now. But Jayne has no qualms in impressing on her children that appearance matters. She says: 'It's good to look your best.'
Asked whether beauty pageants are a strange occupation for a ten-year-old boy, she says: 'Max gets a lot of confidence from these shows. He enjoys taking part, and it's a good day out.'
'You can't stop your kids doing something just because some sicko might be interested in them. Paedophiles are after any kids - not just those who are in beauty pageants'
Asked if she is worried about Max being targeted by paedophiles, she says, perhaps a little unconvincingly: 'The people who watch are family and friends.
'You need tickets to get in. You can't stop your kids doing something just because some sicko might be interested in them.
'Paedophiles are after any kids - not just those who are in beauty pageants.'
However, Professor Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at Kent University, echoes the sentiments of many by describing the Prince Charming contests as 'grotesque'.
'These competitions are very disturbing indeed,' he says. 'Generally, you will find these are mothers living through their children, acting out their own dreams through their sons.'
He believes children could be damaged by competing in such shows. 'The idea of young boys being made to strut their stuff in this sexualised way is ghastly, just terrible,' he continues.
'Celebrity culture has had such an extraordinary impact on family life, to the point where some parents have lost their grip on the difference between reality and fantasy.
'You have to wonder what they are thinking, dressing their children up as male models and encouraging them to do this. Of course, paedophile interest is a concern.
'There is also a predatory element, with these beauty pageant companies making an awful lot of money out of misguided families who often can't afford to part with this sort of money, but are on a misguided quest for fame for their children. It is very sad.
'While it is perfectly normal for little girls to play with mummy's lipstick, and little boys secretly to practice bodybuilder poses in front of the mirror, it is wrong for parents to open the door and push them in that direction, into adult sexual territory. This is an extremely worrying trend.'
Sue Kemp, the mother of another boy pageant contestant, Mitchell Kemp, admits she does have concerns about potential unhealthy interest in her son, though it hasn't stopped her entering him in competitions.
Mitchell, from Doncaster, South Yorkshire, is now 12 and, like Max, took part in Little Miss and Mr British Isles 2006.
Sue says: 'If he's asked to pose in swimwear, for example, I check the job out very carefully. It's so easy to get sucked into things. You have to be very wary.'
Girls allowed: The boys are following in the footsteps of girls such as Madison, aged nine, a UK pageant contestant
She explains that Mitchell has loved beauty pageants ever since winning a bonny baby competition in Doncaster Market when he was three.
'He's a real pretty boy and loves being in front of the camera,' she says, admitting that she even dyes Mitchell's eyelashes to make him look 'more handsome'.
'Two years ago, he won the South Yorkshire heats of Little Mister British Isles. Some of the contests are very competitive, with 20 boys taking part.
'He really stood out in his little suit and tie. Then he had to do a "casual-wear" section, strutting down the runway and posing with his jacket over his shoulder, giving a smouldering look.'
She admits that kitting him out in the appropriate clothes for these events is expensive, estimating that she has spent thousands of pounds on pageant fees, travel to and from the contests, as well as outfits and photographic portfolio shoots.
His modelling portfolio alone, which she updates regularly, costs £200. And as she works as a delivery driver, and has recently been the family's only breadwinner, it's money the family can ill afford.
Asked if she thinks it is appropriate for a young boy to be giving smouldering looks, she says: 'They don't exploit the boys like they do the little girls.
'The girls all wear padded bras, make-up and fake tan, and I do think that's wrong. I did dye Mitchell's eyelashes, but only because they are very blond.'
She adds: 'Mitchell has been taken on by a model agency now, so it's definitely been worth it. He took part in the Premier model agency boys' show recently - he's got real talent. I'm so proud of him.'
Mrs Kemp insists that there are children as young as two on the circuit. 'Some of them don't want to do it,' she says.
'You see the mums pushing them onto the stage, but there are tears. They have to sing and do an act sometimes, and not every child wants to perform.
'You do find some very pushy mums out there. I have encouraged Mitchell, but only because he seems to enjoy it.'
One mother from Cardiff, who wishes to remain anonymous, says that she entered her four-year-old son, Dylan, into a contest held in the middle of a Welsh shopping mall last year. But when he was asked to model in swimwear by the tournament organisers, she was so concerned by the message this sent out that she decided it would be his last contest.
'At the time, it had seemed a good idea to enter Dylan, because he's such a cute little boy, with golden curls and dimples. I wanted to show him off.
'But all the little boys were slathered in baby oil to show off their muscles. They had to prance up and down a catwalk.
'There has to be a loss of innocence in treating these kids as mini grown-ups. Some of the boys were striking provocative, sexy poses'
'The mothers were very competitive, and I saw one using make-up to make her child look better. She said the stage lights made him look washed out. I'd only entered Dylan for fun, but I ended up feeling the whole thing was a bit seedy and unpleasant-It made me question what I was doing.
'There has to be a loss of innocence in treating these kids as mini grown-ups. Some of the boys were striking provocative, sexy poses. All the parents seemed delighted, and were proudly taking pictures.
'But Dylan is really much happier playing football and doing real little boy stuff than pretending to be a model. The whole thing was very expensive as well.'
Indeed, the final bill for the family, once they'd bought a new suit for Dylan and after they were charged for a host of 'extras', including a rosette and a pack of photographs by the organisers, was over £300.
A spokesman for UK Cinderella, which hosts beauty competitions for girls, but has recently branched out into the Prince Charming events, said: 'We aim for a family atmosphere.
'It's a whole new world once you get up there on the stage, and the boys love it. It's not just about looks - they have to demonstrate some talent. They have to be able to sing or dance, or do something other than just stand there. We don't encourage them to look fake: they just have to be themselves.'
The organisers of Little Miss and Mister UK refused to talk to the Daily Mail when asked about their beauty pageants.
For her part, Max's mother, Jayne, is simply concerned that her son's facial injuries may ruin his chances of winning further beauty contests.
She is planning to get him on Britain's Got Talent next year, and so the coming months are crucial if he is to make it in showbusiness. She hopes to get him private dental treatment.
'Looks are important in that industry,' she says. 'It's part of the package and gets you noticed. He's been practising his singing, but the words aren't coming out as clearly as they normally would. And it doesn't look too pleasant when you open your mouth and it's full of wires.'
She adds: 'Max has been saying that he hates his life now he's ruined his looks. It's upsetting.'
It is, indeed. Though it's hardly surprising, given that his mother has taught him that looks are everything.
Read more: Would you let YOUR 10-year-old son pose like this in a beauty pageant? | Mail Online