What are we to think of the death of this beauty queen?
Or, more precisely, a beauty princess. This contestant, seen in pageants wearing a feather boa and dangling rhinestone earrings, was only 6 years old.
As the baffling sequence of events surrounding the murder of JonBenet Ramsey unfolds, America uneasily watches video images of this exquisite little girl posing in slinky evening gowns, her hair tinted a silvery blond and elaborately coiffured.
The former Little Miss Colorado, from Boulder, was reportedly sexually assaulted. Her mouth was sealed with duct tape. Her skull was fractured. A white cord was around her neck.
All this ugliness has been discussed against a background of, well, how she looked.
She looked like a little girl dressed as a woman, a very glamorous woman.
Her mother, Patricia, is a former beauty queen herself. She was Miss West Virginia in 1977. Was she reliving her life through her daughter? How many hours a day did JonBenet spend having her hair moussed and styled? Why was this child wearing red lipstick and eyeliner and sequins and garden party hats?
This appears to be a perfect opportunity for sanctimony and judgment.
But the fact is, little JonBenet is not unusual. I'm not talking about all the other little girls who competed with her for the titles of Little Miss Charlevoix (Mich.), Colorado State All-Star Kids Cover Girl, America's Royale Miss and National Tiny Miss Beauty.
Presumably they were outfitted and trained just like JonBenet, but just weren't as good at it.
Plenty of other children are forced to be adults every day, competing in more acceptable arenas. You can see it at swimming pools and in classrooms, on tennis courts and at computer keyboards and chessboards. And gymnasiums.
Ask Olympic gymnast Dominique Moceanu how old she was when somebody dressed her in a leotard and hoisted her up onto the balance beam. Ask figure skater Tai Babilonia how old she was when she started skating three or four hours a day.
Picture the adorable Macaulay Culkin of Home Alone (the first one) and as he is today, fending off his parents' attempts to suck up the profits from his work.
What about the 7-year-old ''pilot'' who was strapped into a booster seat so she could see out the windows of the Cessna airplane she later crashed. Somebody built aluminum extensions so Jessica Dubroff, who was just a little more than 4 feet tall, could reach the rudder pedals. Somebody gave her a baseball cap that said ''Women fly.''
She was just a little girl.
And we do not reserve the honor of early adulthood for little girls.
Shine, a movie playing around the country now to rave reviews, is the true story of a gifted young concert pianist. The boy, David Helfgott, collapses under the weight of his father's expectations and spends a decade in a mental hospital.
I could easily imagine the father on the sidelines of a Pee Wee football game or a soccer game or basketball. When I saw film footage of Jessica Dubroff's father, who died in the crash with her, he looked to me like every soccer daddy who has ever stood along the sidelines on a Saturday afternoon screaming at his 5-year-old.
The little blonde girl in lipstick and sequins and high-heeled sling sandals really is not so different from some of the kids we see every day in jeans and pigtails. Like Jessica Dubroff and David Helfgott and some tiny athletes and computer nerds, JonBenet Ramsey was a child being asked to perform as an adult.
She was simply dressed for the part.
Laura Pulfer's column appears in The Enquirer on Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call 768-8393 or fax at 768-8340. She can be heard Monday mornings on WVXU radio (91.7 FM) and is a regular commentator on National Public Radio's Morning Edition.