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 beauty pageant is a competition that has traditionally focused on judging and ranking the physical attributes of the contestants, although some contests have evolved to also incorporate personality, intelligence, talent, and answers to judges' questions as judged criteria. The term almost invariably refers only to contests for women and girls such as the Big Four international beauty pageants;[1][2][3] with similar events for men or boys being called by other names and are more likely to be bodybuilding contests.

A winner of a beauty contest is often called a beauty queen. Child 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, scholarships, and cash prizes. However adult and teen pageants have been moving more towards judging speaking, and many no longer contain swimsuit or talent sections.

Subject to community standards, the organisers of each pageant may determine the rules of the competition, including the age range of contestants. The rules may also require the contestants to be unmarried, and be "virtuous", be "amateur", be available for promotions, besides other criteria. It may also set the clothing standards in which contestants will be judged, including the type of swimsuit.


Georgiana Seymour, Duchess of Somerset was crowned the 'Queen of Beauty' at the Eglinton Tournament of 1839, the first known beauty pageant.
Beauty contest in Montreal, 1948

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.[4][5] 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.[6]

Miss America Pageant[edit]

The oldest pageant still in operation today is the Miss America pageant, which was organised in 1921 by a local businessman as a means to entice tourists to Atlantic City, New Jersey.[7] 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, and was awarded $100.[8]

International Pageants[edit]

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

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.[9][10][11][12] 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.[11] This contest is said to have served as a model for modern pageants.[12][13][14] It featured contestants from England, Russia, Turkey, and many other nations and the title awarded at the time was known as "Miss Universe."[12][15] The event was discontinued in the United States in 1932 because of the Depression (the international competition was revived briefly in Belgium).

Around the globe[edit]

Further information: List of beauty contests

Major international contests for women include the yearly Miss World competition (founded by Eric Morley in 1951), Miss Universe (founded in 1952), Miss International (founded in 1960) and Miss Earth (founded in 2001 with environmental awareness as its concern).[16][17][18] These are considered the Big Four pageants, the four largest and most famous international beauty contests.[19][20]

Major beauty pageants[edit]

Founded Pageant Organizer Location Bikini allowed Bikini regulation
1921 Miss America Miss America Organization[7] Atlantic City, New Jersey 1997 1947: Bikinis were outlawed because of Roman Catholic protesters.[21]
1997: Contestants allowed to wear bikinis.[7]
1951 Miss World Eric Morley,
Miss World Organization
London, England 1951 1951: The first winner Kiki Håkansson from Sweden was crowned in a bikini. Countries with religious traditions threatened to withdraw delegates,[22] and Pope Pius XII condemned the crowing as sinful.[23][24]
1952: Swimsuits toned down to more modest designs.[7]
1996: Miss World contest was held in Bangalore, India, but "Swimsuit Round" was shifted to Seychelles because of intense protests.[25]
2013: The swimsuit round was dropped because of Islamist protests in Bali, Indonesia, where the contest took place.[26]
1952 Miss Universe William Morris Endeavor New York City 1997 1952: Bikinis banned.
1997: Contestants allowed to wear bikinis.[7]
1952 Miss USA William Morris Endeavor New York City 1997 1952: Bikinis banned.
1997: Contestants allowed to wear bikinis.[7]
2000: Tankinis were provided as an option for the first (and only) time.[7]
1983 Miss Teen USA Gulf+Western Palm Springs, California 1997 1983: Bikinis banned.
1997: Contestants allowed to wear bikinis.[7]
2000: Tankinis were provided as an option for the first (and only) time.[7]
2001 Miss Earth Carousel Productions Quezon City, Philippines 2003 2003: Vida Samadzai from Afghanistan participating in a bikini caused an uproar in her native country.[7]


Lone Star State Selects Beauties for 100 Year Pageant[27]

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.[28]

Some pageants award college scholarships, to the winner or multiple runners-up.[29]

Selection of "beauty queen"[edit]

Beauty pageants are generally multi-tiered, with local competitions feeding into the larger competitions.[30] International pageants involve hundreds, sometimes thousands, of local competitions.


Bathing beauty contest, USA, 1920

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.[31][32][33]

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.[34]


  1. ^ News, Reuters (2004-10-25). "Miss Earth 2004 beauty pageant". China Daily. Retrieved 2007-10-23. 
  2. ^ "Brazil’s Miss World finalist has her hands and feet amputated". 22 January 2009. Retrieved 24 September 2012. 
  3. ^ Enriquez, Amee (2 February 2014). "Philippines: How to make a beauty queen". BBC News. Retrieved 3 February 2014. 
  4. ^ Colin Blakemore and Sheila Jennett, ed. (2006). The Oxford companion to the body (1. publ. ed.). Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press. ISBN 0-19-852403-X. 
  5. ^ "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. 
  6. ^ "Beauty Pageants History: The Beginning and Beyond". Retrieved 7 June 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "History". Pageant Almanac. Pageant Almanac. Archived from the original on December 12, 2008. Retrieved November 6, 2008. 
  8. ^ "Miss America". In Encyclopedia of New Jersey. 2004. Retrieved 6 October 2012. 
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ "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. 
  11. ^ a b "Miss United States Began In Galveston". The Islander Magazine. 2006. 
  12. ^ a b c Cherry, Bill (25 October 2004). "Miss America was once Pageant of Pulchritude". Galveston Daily News. 
  13. ^ Brown, Bridget (17 May 2009). "Isle bathing beauty tradition reborn". Galveston Daily News. 
  14. ^ Savage, Candace (1998). Beauty queens: a playful history. Abbeville. p. 33. ISBN 978-1-55054-618-7. 
  15. ^ "The Billboard". 25 September 1948. p. 49. 
  16. ^ News, EFE (28 November 2009). "Mexicana Anagabriela Espinoza gana concurso de belleza en China". Terra Networks (Mexico)/EFE. Retrieved 19 February 2012. 
  17. ^ Sibbett, Rebecca (15 February 2008). "Edinburgh students launch beauty pageant". The Edinburgh Journal. Retrieved 8 March 2012. 
  18. ^ Fischer, Bernd (20 August 2012). "Beauty pageants: the bad and the beautiful". Perdeby. Retrieved 26 December 2012. 
  19. ^ "Beauty with scandals". The Standard. 21 July 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2011. 
  20. ^ "24-year-old former Tian Zhizi elected as "Miss Japan 2011"". Business Times. 4 July 2011. Retrieved 21 July 2011. 
  21. ^ "We're all intellectuals". The Daily Telegraph (London: Telegraph Media Group Limited). November 6, 2008. 
  22. ^ Han Shin, Beauty with a Purpose, page 193, iUniverse, 2004, ISBN 0-595-30926-7
  23. ^ Various, Selvedge: The Fabric of Your Life, page 39, Selvedge Ltd., 2005
  24. ^ Maass, Harold (June 7, 2013). "The controversial bikini ban at the Miss World beauty pageant". Retrieved August 22, 2013. 
  25. ^ "Miss Greece now Miss World, despite pageant protests". CNN. November 23, 1996. Archived from the original on December 17, 2003. 
  26. ^ Nidhi Tewari, "Miss Universe 2013: Winning Beauty To Wear Million Dollar Diamond-Studded Swimsuit", International Business Times, November 5, 2013
  27. ^ Universal Newsreel (1935). "Lone Star State Selects Beauties for 100 Year Pageant". Texas Archive of the Moving Image. Retrieved 21 July 2011. 
  28. ^ "Miss America: People & Events: Origins of the Beauty Pageant". Retrieved May 2014. 
  29. ^ Miss Teenage California scholarship awards, from the pageant website
  30. ^ Cherie Wimberly (26 March 2009), The Ultimate Beauty Pageant Notebook, CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, ISBN 978-1-4421-1641-2, retrieved 14 April 2013 
  31. ^ "Beauty and body image in the media". Media Awareness Network. Archived from the original on 18 January 2009. Retrieved 2009-01-17. 
  32. ^ "Reigning Miss Universe Suspected of Having Cosmetic Surgery". Archived from the original on 26 August 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  33. ^ "Plastic Surgery: Bollywood, Miss Universe, and the Indian Girl Next Door" (PDF). Gujarati Magazine (Sandesh). Retrieved 2010-08-23. 
  34. ^ "Why OBJECT to Beauty Pageants?". Retrieved May 2014. 


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