A beauty pageant or beauty contest, is a competition that mainly focuses on the physical beauty of its contestants, although such contests often incorporate personality, 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 American pageant was staged by P. T. Barnum 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: In 1880, the first “Bathing Beauty Pageant" took place as part of a summer festival to promote business in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
Contests became a regular part of summer beach life, with the most elaborate contests taking place in Atlantic City, New Jersey (“Fall Frolic”) and Galveston, Texas ("Splash Day"), where the events attracted women from many cities and towns.
Universal produced a newsreel of the Texas Centennial Celebration beauty pageant in 1935, which shows models attempting to fit into life-sized cutouts of the Centennial Committee's concept of the "perfect figure."
When beauty pageants began, they were viewed as “trivial events whose interpretation required no scholarly effort.” Miss America, the first pageant of its kind, has made an effort to ensure that it does not appear as a "stereotypical" pageant.
Another stated goal of pageants is promoting self-esteem and public-speaking abilities of the contestants. Winners of these pageants have said that they feel a sense of accomplishment.
Pageants may be aligned with community or social organizations to raise money for charities. The “clubs” that each contestant supports may be referred to as “platforms.”
Some pageants award college scholarships, to the winner or multiple runners-up.
In beauty pageants, there are 3 main types.
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. 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).
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). These are considered the "Big Four" pageants, the four largest and most famous international beauty contests.
Minor contests, such as the Miss Bondi contest in Australia, are common throughout the world in the summer months. During the 1950s, pageants thrived to promote county fairs and local products. For example, some of Raquel Welch's titles included " Maid of San Diego County", " Maid of California" "Miss Photogenic" and "Miss Contour." Women from around the world participate each year in local competitions for the chance to represent their country's international title.
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.
Some beauty pageants have taken a less conventional route in modern times. In 2011, Dirty Beer Hole, a website that is popular among the users of social-media giants Twitter and Facebook, began seeking contestants for its irreverent, yet entertaining, Miss Cheap Beer beauty pageant. Additional online beauty pageants are certain to follow in this trend of online competitions.
Beauty pageants are generally multi-tiered, with local competitions feeding into the larger competitions. International pageants involve hundreds, sometimes thousands, of local competitions. In the United States, there is now a commercial beauty pageant industry that organizes thousands of local and regional events for all ages for profit, supported by magazines like The Crown Magazine and Pride of Pageantry.
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.
Some beauty pageants have also been found to be fraudulent. The promoters charge large fees, require additional photos or specific attire that must be purchased from a sponsor, and in some cases award a prize to a confederate within the contest.
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