I only consider freak shows exploitative in the sense that it's someone taking advantage of a natural (or manufactured) difference that sets them apart. from others. Unless mentally disabled or a literal child, participating in sideshows is a conscious choice. https://twitter.com/LeahJaclyn/status/1309936938242068480
And even then, well... it's same across all show business. There are mentally disabled actors, and child actors, too. Are they exploited? Yeah, some. But not all.
And it's worth considering that even the borderline cases, like Schlitzie and other "pinheads,," who had a significantly impaired intellect?

He was born in 1901. His only other option would have been lifelong institutionalization.
Schlitzie lived to 70 years old; if institutionalized, he would have likely died much younger. Pre-modern institutions weren't care homes, they were dumping grounds. He was inarguably better taken care of by the showpeople who adopted him than he would have been by institutions.
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