A freak show is an exhibition of human genetic rarities — such as unusually tall or short people, or those with both male and female secondary sexual characteristics. Heavily tattooed or pierced people are also sometimes seen in freak shows, along with fire-eating and sword-swallowing acts.
Freak shows were popular in the United States from around 1840 to the 1970s, and were often, but not always, associated with circuses and carnivals. Some shows also exhibited deformed animals (such as two-headed cows, one-eyed pigs, and four-horned goats) and famous hoaxes, or simply "science gone wrong" exhibits (such as deformed babies).
Changes in popular culture and greater genetic understanding led to the decline, and in some places prohibition, of the freak show as a form of entertainment.