Lacey-Mae Mason, who will be featured on Wednesday night’s episode of the popular TLC show Toddlers & Tiaras, has been making the rounds in the pageant circuit since she was 14 months old.
Now, at 8 years old and standing at about 3 feet, 4 in., there’s something that clearly sets Lacey apart from other contestants her age – besides her incredible stage presence. Lacey, from Brooklyn, Conn., was born with achondroplasia, the leading cause of dwarfism.
Achondroplasia occurs when a person inherits a mutated copy of the gene associated with the disorder from either the mother or the father. The condition affects one out of every 15,000 to 40,000 births. About 80 percent of people with the disorder are born to two normal-sized parents. In Lacey’s case, doctors were not aware of her condition until the day she was born, when her mother Kerry Ann Mason had to undergo a cesarean section.
“With Lacey, her head is a bit larger,” Mason explained. “So we had to do it that way.”
In addition to dwarfism, Lacey was also born with paralyzed vocal chords and a half-sized tongue, which prevented her from making sounds or drinking on her own.
“A mom waits to hear her baby’s first cry, you know?” Mason said, “But she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t cry.”
Lacey had a tube put in to help her take in liquids until her tongue grew to normal size a couple weeks later. Her vocal chords, however, did not recover until she was nearly a year old and ready to talk.
“It went from absolutely nothing to ‘Boom!’ She started talking, saying ‘momma’ and ‘daddy,’” Mason explained. “It was really great to hear her start to vocalize.”
Not long after that milestone, Mason enrolled Lacey in her first beauty pageant at the local mall. At the time, Mason expected it to be Lacey’s one and only pageant.
“I just thought, wouldn’t it be nice for her to have a participation trophy on her dresser and be able to say she was in a pageant?” Mason said. “I never would have imagined how incredible she was going to be.”
From that pageant, Lacey qualified for the larger state competition, in which she participated at 17 months old. She ended up bring home a $500 savings bond and 10 trophies – one of which is 6 feet tall.
“She thinks it’s funny,” Mason said, “She laughs that she has a trophy that will always be taller than her.”
Lacey’s doctors have projected she’ll only grow to about 4 feet, 8 in., in height. Among other issues, people with dwarfism also have to be monitored for multiple ear infections, outward curving of the spine, bowed legs and narrowing at the base of the neck, which can cause the spinal fluid coming down from the brain to build up.
“When she was little, we had to see about two specialists every week,” Mason said. “Now we’re down to yearly check-ups with each specialist.”
Besides regular pediatrician and dentist check-ups, Lacey has to see an orthopedic doctor, a genetic doctor, and if shehas any neck issues, a cranial specialist.
“We’ve been very lucky when it comes to symptoms actually,” Mason said. “She’s had four ear infections in her life, and a bit of a natural bow in her legs, but in other [children] it can get really extreme.”
However, Mason added, the outward curve of Lacey’s spine does cause her back pain and tire her out more than other children. She also overheats easily because her body has trouble regulating its temperature.
“On the show, you’ll probably see she gets very tired, or even teary-eyed at one point,” Mason said. “The other kids will be running around, but Lacey needs to have down time and go back to the hotel room. She’s been doing this for a long time though. She knows when she’s getting over-tired.”
Otherwise, Mason said, Lacey greatly enjoys participating in pageants and putting on a show for the judges and audience.
“The pageants have been absolutely incredible for her self-esteem,” Mason said. “In our family’s case, it’s been a blessing. She gets lots of standing ovations and clapping – it validates that people accept her and love her for who she is. I don’t think we’d have the same Lacey Mae today if it wasn’t for pageantry.”
In nearly 8 years of doing pageants, Lacey has only gotten two negative reactions, which pale in comparison to the hundreds of trophies, sashes, tiaras and savings bonds she’s won. Lacey Mae plans to continue to compete until she wins the ‘Ultimate Grand Supreme Title’ – the highest honor at a beauty pageant. The closest she has gotten is ‘Mini-Supreme,’ which is typically the third highest score.
“I’m not sure if it would stop her even if she did win it,” Mason admitted, “but I do think her size ultimately will play a factor. I would never encourage her to stop because of it, but it’s possible when she’s older, the acceptance will stop. I’ve always prepared her and told her, ‘you never know what the judges will think of you.’ You never know what the future will bring in pageantry, especially for someone who’s so much smaller than everyone else.”
Lacey’s episode of Toddlers & Tiaras airs Wednesday night at 10 pm ET on TLC.