Find Out What Became of the Smoking 9-Year-Old Girl in This Iconic Photo — The Truth Is Heartbreaking

There are some photographs that never quite leave you after looking at them. A single image captured by the late Mary Ellen Mark just so happens to be one of them.

The photo, called Amanda and Her Cousin Amy, shows a nine-year-old girl named Amanda Ellison smoking a cigarette while standing in a kiddie swimming pool with her cousin. Amanda is wearing make up, fake nails, and mimicking the pose of an older woman while she casually blows smoke into the air.

It’s an unforgettable portrait that become one of Mark’s most iconic photos.

In 1993, Vogue interviewed Mark about the photo.

“She’s smoking a cigarette, she on the edge, she’s my favourite. She was so bad she was wonderful, she had a really vulgar mouth, she was brilliant,” Mark explained.

So, what became of those two little girls all these years later? Well, it’s no fairy tale ending.

When Mark died a few years ago year, NPR’s Chris Benderev was able to track down Ellison.

Now 34, she lives in Lenoir, North Carolina, and is still “surrounded by crazy people and drugs.” When she was 11-years-old, she was moved into foster care and five years later became addicted to hard drugs. However, despite having such a rough upbringing, she never did forget that photograph.

“Never forgotten it. Never in my life have I forgotten it,” Ellison said.

For years, she attempted to locate the photograph, but was unable to find it. It wasn’t until after Mark passed away that she was reunited with that moment from her childhood. Amy discovered the photo and uploaded the image to Facebook and tagged Ellison in it.

“When she came along and took those photos, I thought, ‘Well, hey, people will see me and this may get me the attention that I want; it may change things for me,’ she said. “I had thought that that might have been the way out. But it wasn’t.”

Interested to hear more of Ellison’s story? Check out her interview with Benderev below.