The average BMI (Body Mass Index) of a Beauty Contestant in the US in 1930 was 20.8, which is universally in the middle of the "healthy" range. In 2010, it was 16.9, which is considered underweight for anyone.
The first Miss America Pageant was held in Atlantic City in 1921. Bathing suit contests had been held at beaches in Delaware as early as 1880 (those saucy Victorians!)
There are four major international beauty pageants for adult women, known as The Big Four - Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss International, and Miss Earth. The Philippines holds the most titles from The Big Four.
Being a Pageant Queen isn't cheap or easy - it's like a full time job. For serious competitors in the US, evening dresses can cost upwards of $1,000 for gowns off the rack, $5,000 and up for custom-made gowns. Professional Hair and Makeup can cost $250 and hour, on top of personal trainers, pageant coaches, professional head shots, transportation, pageant entry fees....
Globally, Beauty Pageants are insanely popular, with over 3,000 pageants listed on the International Register of Pageants.
Many of us have seen or heard of the show "Toddlers and Tiaras," which follows child Beauty Pageant Contestants. Children between the ages of 6-16 account for about 3 million beauty pageant attendees each year.
"Glitz" dresses for children's beauty pageants can run into the thousands of dollars for one outfit, worn for one pageant season. One noted Toddler's and Tiara's contestant - Mckenzie Myers - had a $4,000 dress.
Many adult "Miss" beauty pageants still hold to very traditional gender roles; contestants must never have been married (Miss America now allows Divorcees), or given birth to a child. (Requirements used to say "have been pregnant," but changes were made so that women who had an abortion or miscarriage could compete.) The oldest you can be to enter the Miss America Pageant is 24, for Miss USA it's 26.
There have been a lot of weirdly themed Beauty Pageants in America's History - Miss American Vampire (girls dressed like a Vampire), Miss Beautiful Ape (a promotion in the 70's where contestants wore Ape Heads to promote a movie), Miss Atom Bomb, Miss Prettiest Ankles, and Miss Lovely Eyes (where contestants wore creepy masks that covered everything but their eyes. Because scarves were too basic?)
France actually banned Beauty Pageants for children under the age of 13, citing fears of "hypersexualizing" young girls. But it does beg the question - does a 4 year old need a spray tan, eyeliner, fake nails, fake lashes, and fake teeth?
Apparently, you can be the most beautiful woman in the Universe more than once. In 2009, Dayana Mendoza from Venezuela won Miss Universe for two consecutive years.
Since most mainstream adult beauty pageants have very strict ideals of beauty, there are a lot of specialty pageants - for short women, married women, plus size women, etc.
Over two and a half million adult women participate in Beauty Pageants each year in the US alone, and Beauty Pageants are a Worldwide phenomenon. That's a lot of hair spray and tooth whitener.
Some people in Venezuela are so obsessed with Beauty Pageants that they send their daughters to special academies also known as "Miss Factories," to groom them to be Beauty Queens. Often women under 18 undergo cosmetic surgery, hormone therapies to stave off puberty in an attempt to grow taller, mesh sewn onto the tongue to make eating solid food impossible, among other things. However, Venezuela has the most International Beauty titles of any other country.
While many are quick to speak against Beauty Pageants for women of any age, many contestants report an increase in self esteem, confidence, and overcoming shyness. Confidence is the best participation trophy.
Backstage at pageants doesn't smell as pretty as the contestants look. A bunch of sweaty girls running around, a lot of nerves, hairspray, and fifteen different kinds of perfume don't...smell great together. This is in no way to say that Beauty Contestants aren't meticulously clean, but...athletes don't smell great in the middle of a game, either.
It doesn't take a lot to set up a local Beauty Pageant, as far as experience or legal oversight. Pick an age group and theme, date, location, prizes, and a few other details, and BOOM, people showing up with makeup and sparkles. This doesn't mean you'll throw a GOOD pageant, mind you, just "a pageant." While a lot of these pageants may not be registered with larger pageant groups, some serious competitors consider them practice for more serious competitions against seasoned beauty queens.
A lot of the contestants become friends. We know that drama sells, so to a point any "reality" show about Pageants has played up the drama. But contestants aren't usually at each other's throats; they're a bunch of young women of the same age striving towards the same goals, heavily invested in the same subculture. Of COURSE they're going to make friends. There's a few bad apples, sure, but overall, it's a lot of healthy competition and support.
"Butt Glue" is a thing. It keeps your bikini bottom in place, or to keep revealing tops from revealing too much. Skin Lifting Tape is also a real and commonly used thing.
Some Beauty Pageants are a scam. Because it's not really complicated and there's no grand oversight to hosting a local Beauty Pageant, some pageant organizers are really just there for the money. While they may give out tiaras and sashes the day of the pageant, bigger prizes - like scholarships and cash - sometimes never appear, and the scammers make off with the entry fees. Which stinks, because most small pageants are just people who love the pageant world and want to start one.
Those giant, sometimes weird, pageant crowns they win? Like everything these days, they're usually ordered online, and they cost the pageant from $5 (for bulk ordered participation crowns) to hundreds of dollars for the huge monstrosities that generally can't actually be worn by the contestant without them holding it on their head with one hand.
Ever wonder how/why the waists of some contestants are so teeny tiny? Hemorrhoid cream and plastic wrap. Says one former miss USA, “I slather on hemorrhoid ointment, wrap myself up with Saran wrap, and run on a treadmill with an incline for 30 minutes. It’s not permanent, but it tightens you up.” So the next time someone tries to sell you a $25 wrap thing...just get a tube of preparation H.
Sometimes the women in the finals get serenaded. On stage. Despite how romantic and lovely Disney movies and musicals have made this moment seem, it's kind of awkward.
Time schedules for large national and international pageants are *insane*. Several weeks of 18+ hour days in the WEEKS leading up to Pageant Day, with very little time between activities or appearances. So the next time you apply eight layers of concealer and highlight to your dark circles, feel like a Beauty Queen!
While people love to mock and replay every dumb answer a Beauty Contestant makes (Like, the Iraq, and, such as), Beauty Pageants in the US place a heavy emphasis on education and scholarships, and yes, there ARE feminist Beauty Queens. You can be a highly intelligent, progressive, feminist, non-white, Beauty Queen who competes *because she enjoys it*. Isn't she lovely?