10 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Beauty Pageants

by Grace Eire
Grace plays in a band and is the mother to a black cat named Fitzhugh.

Beauty pageants have been around for a very long time. Even in the early 1800s, May Queens were selected during European May Day celebration as symbols of wholesomeness and beauty.

Today in America, there are dozens upon dozens of beauty pageants for women of different ages. It takes a whole lot to be a beauty queen, and not just a strict diet and exercise: you also need to have a lot of dedication and practice. In fact, up to three-fourths of all beauty pageant contestants hire coaches to help them become winners in competition. It’s almost like a sport in the sense that the competition is intense, and you have to train long and hard to be a winner.

While it may all be glitz and glamour in the spectators’ minds, there is more than meets the eye when it comes to these events. Between the history of the spectacle, the women who have participated, and the rules and regulations over the years, there is a lot you probably didn’t know about these pageants.

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1. American Pageants Started Because Of Tourism

Miss USA contestants at Union Station in 1921

In 1920, the folks at the Atlantic City Boardwalk wanted to keep the tourists on site after Labor Day. Their solution was to throw a parade of pretty women.

The next year, they took the idea a bit further and turned the parade into a pageant, and that, my friends, is how Miss America was born.

2. Some Pageants Have Marriage And Pregnancy Restrictions

Miss War Worker Beauty Contest 1942

There is a pageant out there for everyone, but some of them still enforce very strict rules. Some guideline state that a contestant can’t be pregnant, that she can’t be over the young age of 24, or that she must be unmarried.

There are other pageants specifically designed for older women, mothers, women under 5’6, plus-size women, and pretty much just about everyone. However, some of the rules for the world’s oldest pageants seem a bit outdated.

3. There's More Camaraderie Behind The Scenes Than Fighting

Miss Universe 1930 winners

You may think there is only a lot of resentment behind the scenes at pageants, as there is only one crown for dozens of contestants. But many women and girls who compete in various levels will wholeheartedly tell you that there is a very strong sisterhood between competitors.

Most will say that they are more like one big family than anything else. Ask any woman who grew up in the pageant world and she’ll tell you that her best friends are the ones who she met while competing.

4. Winners Have Given Up The Title

Miss America crown and scepter

Bette Cooper won the title of Miss America in 1937, but within 24 hours of receiving the crown, she decided that she would rather pursue an education instead of performing the duties of the winner. She relinquished all of her responsibilities and attended Centenary Junior College in her home state of New Jersey.

No one else was awarded the title after she declined the crown.

5. Backstage Isn't So Glamorous, Especially The Smell

National Rice Festival beauty pageant contestants 1938

Think about it: there are dozens of women back there rushing to get through wardrobe changes after being out there in the shining, hot lights. Even beauty queens sweat on their breast inserts and need to reapply their “butt glue” a few times for the swimsuit portions.

There is usually a very interesting cocktail of smells wafting about backstage, a strange mixture of hairspray and body odors.

6. Contestants Have Launched Careers In Show Business

Cloris Leachman Phyllis Miss America contestant 1946

She didn’t win the title, but in 1946 actress Cloris Leachman got a scholarship after participating in a Miss America pageant. She took that money and used it to get the ball rolling on her acting career in New York City.

Many credit her short-lived career in the beauty pageant world as giving her the jump start she needed to launch her successful acting career.

7. The United States Holds The Most Miss Universe Titles

2012 Miss America Olivia Culpo

Olivia Culpo of Rhode Island was the most recent winner in 2012, making it eight total wins for America. The place with the second most wins is Venezuela with seven, then Puerto Rico with five, and the Philippines with three.

8. Bikinis Went From Banned To Mandatory To Optional

Miss Earth 2007 contestants on stage for special awards in bikinis

Bikinis have been banned, protested, made mandatory, and everything in between over the years across many different beauty pageants. As cultures and values intersect and ideas as a whole change, its acceptance has been an ongoing progression.

From being mostly banned in the earlier years to being banned entirely, then to being required and considered optional, it’s been a real roller coaster ride for the swimsuit portion of the competition in all major beauty pageants worldwide.

9. Contestants Are Expected To Do A Lot Of Research

Anastasia Lin Miss World Canada 2015 at National Press Club

The interview portion of the competition comes down to a few short moments where a contestant must provide the perfect answer. Try to think back to your last job interview, and then concentrate all of the pressure of the entire interview into one question. Doesn’t sound very fun, does it?

The best contestants do their research and watch old pageant footage to figure out their own strategy, much like a football player watches old game footage. Pageant contestants have to rehearse with practice questions for months leading up to the competition.

They also have to stay keen on the whole spectrum of current events, as they can never know for sure what the topic of the question will be. Well-prepared pageant contestants probably know more about what’s going on in the world than the average American.

10. 2.5 Million American Females Compete In Pageants Each Year

Overhead view of beauty pageant contestants and audience in late 1930s

Between all the pageants out there, 2.5 million American women compete for various titles across the globe each year. That is a whole lot of women competing for a lot of titles, from local levels all the way up to competitions like Miss America.

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