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.
The first modern beauty pageant was held during the Eglinton Tournament of 1839 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'.
Entrepreneur Phineas Taylor Barnum staged the first modern American pageant in 1854, but his beauty contest was closed down by public protest. He previously held dog, baby, and bird beauty contests. 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.
Miss America Pageant
The oldest pageant still in operation today is the Miss America Pageant, which was established in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1921. The pageant hosted the winners of local newspaper beauty contests in the "Inter-City Beauty" Contest, which was attended by over one hundred thousand people. Sixteen-year-old Margaret Gorman of Washington, D.C. was crowned Miss America 1921, having won both the popularity and beauty contests; she was awarded $100. Famous Miss Americas over the years have included Bess Myerson (Miss America 1945), Lee Meriwether (1955), Mary Ann Mobley (1959), Phyllis George (1971), and Vanessa L. Williams (1984).
In May 1920 promoter C.E. Barfield of Galveston, Texas 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. 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. This contest is said to have served as a model for modern pageants. It featured contestants from England, Russia, Turkey, and many other nations and the title awarded at the time was known as "Miss Universe." The event was discontinued in the United States in 1932 because of the Depression (the international competition was revived briefly in Belgium).
The first extant international competition to be established was the Miss World pageant, created in the United Kingdom by Eric Morley in 1951, and is still one of the most publicised beauty contests in the world. 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. Opposition to the wearing of bikinis led to their replacement with more modest swimwear after the first contest. In 1959, the BBC started broadcasting the competition. The pageant's popularity grew with the advent of television.
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.
Some pageants award college scholarships, to the winner or multiple runners-up.
Selection of "beauty queen"
Beauty pageants are generally multi-tiered, with local competitions feeding into the larger competitions. International pageants involve hundreds, sometimes thousands, of local competitions.
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.
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.
Selected beauty contests:
Related events for men:
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