Beauty pageant

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"Beauty contest" and "Beauty queen" redirect here. For other uses, see Beauty contest (disambiguation) and Beauty queen (disambiguation).
A photograph of a large group of women all wearing differently coloured dresses and standing on a stage in front of a black background
A typical beauty pageant

A beauty pageant is a competition that has traditionally focused on the physical beauty of its contestants, although such contests have evolved to also incorporate personality, intelligence, talent, and answers to judges' questions as judged criteria. The phrase almost invariably refers only to contests for women and girls; similar events for men or boys are called by other names and are more likely to be bodybuilding contests.

Winners of beauty contests are often called beauty queens. Children's beauty pageants mainly focus on beauty, gowns, sportswear modelling, talent, and personal interviews. Adult and teen pageants focus on makeup, hair and gowns, swimsuit modelling, and personal interviews. Possible awards include titles, tiaras or crowns, sashes, savings bonds, and cash prizes.


National contests[edit]

Georgiana Seymour, Duchess of Somerset was crowned the 'Queen of Beauty' at the Eglinton Tournament of 1859, the first known beauty pageant.

The first modern beauty pageant was held during the Eglinton Tournament of 1859 held by Archibald Montgomerie, 13th Earl of Eglinton, a re-enactment of a medieval joust that was held in Scotland. The pageant was won by Georgiana Seymour, Duchess of Somerset, the wife of Edward Seymour, 12th Duke of Somerset and sister of Caroline Norton, and she was proclaimed as the 'Queen of Beauty'.[1]

Entrepreneur Phineas Taylor Barnum staged the first modern American pageant in 1854, but his beauty contest was closed down by public protest.[2][3] He previously held dog, baby, and bird beauty contests.[citation needed] He substituted daguerreotypes for judging, a practice quickly adopted by newspapers. Newspapers held photo beauty contests for many decades.

It was in the 1880s that beauty pageants became more popular. In 1888 the title of 'beauty queen' was awarded to an 18 year old Creole contestant at a pageant in Spa, Belgium. All participants had to supply a photograph and a short description of themselves to be eligible for entry and a final selection of 21 were judged by a formal panel.[4]

The Miss America Pageant was established in 1921 and hosted the winners of local newspaper beauty contests in the "Inter-City Beauty" Contest; a turnout of over one hundred thousand people was achieved and sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman of Washington, D.C. won both the popularity and beauty contest and was awarded $100.[5] Similar national pageants were also established in Britain, Germany and other countries in the 1920s.

International contests[edit]

In May 1920 promoter C.E. Barfield of Galveston organized a new event known as "Splash Day" on the island. The event featured a "Bathing Girl Revue" competition as the centerpiece of its attractions.[6][7][8][9]

Seawall Boulevard and the Hotel Galvez in the 1940s
Postcard view of Galveston where the International Pageant of Pulchritude was held in 1921.

The event was the kick-off of the summer tourist season in the city and was carried forward annually. The event quickly became known outside of Texas and, beginning in 1926, the world's first international contest was added, known as the "International Pageant of Pulchritude."[8] This contest is said to have served as a model for modern pageants.[9][10][11] It featured contestants from England, Russia, Turkey, and many other nations and the title awarded at the time was known as "Miss Universe."[9][12] The event was discontinued in the United States in 1932 because of the Depression (the international competition was revived briefly in Belgium).

Miss World 1954, Egypt.

The first extant international competition to be established was the Miss World pageant, created in the United Kingdom by Eric Morley in 1951,[13][14] and is still one of the most publicised beauty contests in the world.[15][16][17]

The competition started as the Festival Bikini Contest, in honour of the recently introduced swimwear of the time, but was called "Miss World" by the media. It was originally planned as a one-off event. Upon learning about the upcoming Miss Universe pageant, Morley decided to make the pageant an annual event.[18][19] Opposition to the wearing of bikinis led to their replacement with more modest swimwear after the first contest.[20]

In 1959, the BBC started broadcasting the competition. The pageant's popularity grew with the advent of television.[21]

The Big Four international beauty pageants are Miss World (founded in 1951), Miss Universe (begun in 1952), Miss International (1960) and Miss Earth (2001). They are the most coveted beauty titles when it comes to international pageant competitions and are considered to be as such since they are the four largest and most famous female beauty pageants across the globe. Because of their prominence which already became an institution in beauty pageant industry, many fans always anticipate these beauty pageants each year.[22]


Lone Star State Selects Beauties for 100 Year Pageant[23]

European festivals dating to the medieval era provide the most direct lineage for beauty pageants. For example, English May Day celebrations always involved the selection of queens. In the United States, the May Day tradition of selecting women to serve as symbols of bounty and community ideals continued, as young beautiful women participated in public celebrations.[24]

Some pageants award college scholarships, to the winner or multiple runners-up.[25]

Selection of "beauty queen"[edit]

Beauty pageants are generally multi-tiered, with local competitions feeding into the larger competitions.[26] International pageants involve hundreds, sometimes thousands, of local competitions.

Beauty pageants today[edit]

Further information: List of beauty contests

Major international contests for women include the yearly Miss World competition, Miss Universe, Miss International and Miss Earth.[27][28][29] These are considered the "Big Four" pageants, the four largest and most famous international beauty contests.[30][31]

2002 was a year remarkable for its number of winners from countries with a majority Muslim population. In that year Miss Lebanon, Christina Sawaya won the Miss International pageant, Miss Turkey, Azra Akın won Miss World, and the original winner of Miss Earth for that year was Džejla Glavović from Bosnia and Herzegovina (before being replaced by Winfred Omwakwe of Kenya). In 2006, the Muslim nation of Pakistan crowned its first Miss Bikini Universe, Mariyah Moten, which later became a controversy worldwide.


Critics of beauty contests argue that such contests reinforce the idea that girls and women should be valued primarily for their physical appearance, and that this puts tremendous pressure on women to conform to conventional beauty standards by spending time and money on fashion, cosmetics, hair styling and even cosmetic surgery. They claim that this pursuit of physical beauty even encourages some women to diet to the point of harming themselves.[32][33][34]

It is argued that rather than being empowering, beauty pageants are in fact disempowering because they deny the full humanity of women and they reinforce the idea that women's purpose is to look attractive.[35]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Beauty contest". Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
  2. ^ Colin Blakemore and Sheila Jennett, ed. (2006). The Oxford companion to the body (1. publ. ed.). Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. ISBN 019852403X. 
  3. ^ "It's Not a Beauty Pageant. It's a Scholarship Competition!". The LOC.GOV Wise Guide. Library of Congress. August 2008. Retrieved 7 June 2012. 
  4. ^ "Beauty Pageants History: The Beginning and Beyond". Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
  5. ^ "Miss America". In Encyclopedia of New Jersey. 2004. Retrieved 6 October 2012. 
  6. ^ Stein, Elissa (2006). Beauty Queen: Here She Comes... Chronicle Books. p. 37. ISBN 978-0-8118-4864-0. 
    "Revues and other Vanities: The Commodification of Fantasy in the 1920s". Assumption College. Retrieved 2 October 2009. 
  7. ^ "The Sloane Collection, no. 4 - Galveston Bathing Girl Revue, 1925". Story Sloane, III Collection. Texas Archive of the Moving Image. 1925. Retrieved 21 July 2011. 
  8. ^ a b "Miss United States Began In Galveston". The Islander Magazine. 2006. 
  9. ^ a b c Cherry, Bill (25 October 2004). "Miss America was once Pageant of Pulchritude". Galveston Daily News. 
  10. ^ Brown, Bridget (17 May 2009). "Isle bathing beauty tradition reborn". Galveston Daily News. 
  11. ^ Savage, Candace (1998). Beauty queens: a playful history. Abbeville. p. 33. ISBN 978-1-55054-618-7. 
  12. ^ "The Billboard". 25 September 1948. p. 49. 
  13. ^ "Tianjin Miss World China Pageant comes to a close". China Daily. 28 August 2009. Retrieved 24 May 2011. 
  14. ^ "Miss Universe on August 23". Retrieved 24 May 2011. 
  15. ^ "Brazil’s Miss World finalist has her hands and feet amputated". 22 January 2009. Retrieved 24 May 2011. 
  16. ^ Singapore must not give up its 59 seconds of fame[dead link]
  17. ^ "Tracing the regal existence of ‘Miss Universe’". 7 October 2008. Retrieved 24 May 2011. 
  18. ^ "Frontline World: A Pageant is Born". Retrieved 24 May 2011. 
  19. ^ "Bet on Miss World Pageant". Retrieved 24 May 2011. 
  20. ^ "Bikini ban at Miss World pageant". Retrieved 8 June 2013. 
  21. ^ "Miss World gets a makeover". BBC News. 9 September 1998. Retrieved 9 October 2013. 
  22. ^ Prestigious Beauty Pageant (18 November 2013). "Four Big Ships Dominate International Beauty Pageants". Prestigious Beauty Pageants. Retrieved 15 June 2014. 
  23. ^ Universal Newsreel (1935). "Lone Star State Selects Beauties for 100 Year Pageant". Texas Archive of the Moving Image. Retrieved 21 July 2011. 
  24. ^ "Miss America: People & Events: Origins of the Beauty Pageant". Retrieved May 2014. 
  25. ^ Miss Teenage California scholarship awards, from the pageant website
  26. ^ Cherie Wimberly (26 March 2009), The Ultimate Beauty Pageant Notebook, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, ISBN 978-1-4421-1641-2, retrieved 14 April 2013 
  27. ^ News, EFE (28 November 2009). "Mexicana Anagabriela Espinoza gana concurso de belleza en China". Terra Networks (Mexico)/EFE. Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  28. ^ Sibbett, Rebecca (15 February 2008). "Edinburgh students launch beauty pageant". The Edinburgh Journal. Retrieved 8 March 2012. 
  29. ^ Fischer, Bernd (20 August 2012). "Beauty pageants: the bad and the beautiful". Perdeby. Retrieved 26 December 2012. 
  30. ^ "Beauty with scandals". The Standard. 21 July 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2011. 
  31. ^ "24-year-old former Tian Zhizi elected as "Miss Japan 2011"". Business Times. 4 July 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2011. 
  32. ^ "Beauty and body image in the media". Media Awareness Network. Archived from the original on 18 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-17. 
  33. ^ "Reigning Miss Universe Suspected of Having Cosmetic Surgery". Archived from the original on 26 August 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  34. ^ "Plastic Surgery: Bollywood, Miss Universe, and the Indian Girl Next Door". Gujarati Magazine (Sandesh). Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  35. ^ "Why OBJECT to Beauty Pageants?". Retrieved May 2014. 


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