Beauty Pageants: Helping to Shape Future Leaders

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There are many different opinions surrounding beauty pageants. People try to argue that they give contestants the wrong impression about what ‘beauty’ should look like and what ‘standards’ women should be trying to achieve, but the pageant world is changing now more than ever. Contestants are competing with more than just their looks. Things like character, talent, and service are all factors that are considered when choosing a winner. Through the experiences and opportunities contestants receive, personal growth is seen in things like: leadership, public speaking, and overall character. Winners are awarded many different scholarships and opportunities to help further their careers, and reigning queens contribute to their communities and the world through their commitment to service and helping others. Pageants all over the world have characteristics that make them unique and different from one another, but one thing remains true through them all: contestants are given the opportunity to show their character and are given a platform to share what they are passionate about, as well as learn skills and grow to become leaders in society. Beauty pageants continue to grow and change, becoming more and more beneficial to people that participate.

There are many different pageants all over the world impacting contestants in different ways. The two main franchises in the US are Miss America and Miss USA. The Miss America Pageant began in 1921 as a way to improve tourism on the New Jersey coast (Suddath). Overtime, pageants began getting more and more popular. A study by the Columbus Dispatch showed that about 2.5 million people participate in over one hundred fifty thousand pageants in the USA a year. This doesn't include the over one hundred thousand infant, toddler, and young children's beauty pageants that take place each year as well. The start of the 21st century marked a new era for the Miss America organization. Introduction of Miss America 2.0 in 2013 radically changed the way pageants were viewed. Wanting to create a more feministic and empowering competition, the Miss America Organization got rid of the swimsuit portion, replacing it with an interview about the contestant's achievements and goals. Another change that was made was the evening gown competition being replaced with an ‘attire of your choice’ category that allows contestants to have the opportunity to express themselves while talking about how they will advance their social impact initiatives. Gretchen Carlson, chair of the board of trustees, made this statement, “We are no longer a pageant. Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent and empowerment” (Suddath). Scholarships were first introduced in 1945 by the first female pageant director, Lenora Slaughter. As part of Miss America 2.0, several new educational scholarships were added which increased the interest of more educated and career-driven women in participating in the competition. Each year, the Miss America Organization gives out more than 45 million dollars in scholarships and cash. Even if you do not win, there are many scholarship opportunities available for contestants. They can pay for things like education and student loans which allows contestants to be able to further their careers. This reinvention was also part of Miss America's participation in the ‘#METOO’ movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault (Suddath). In an interview, Clair Suddath found just how impactful the reinvented pageant has been. She said, “the pageant community is sometimes depicted by its critics as a bunch of spray-tanned, traditionalists who think women with washboard abs should be admired not hurt. That's not what I found while speaking with the dozen state executive directors, former board members, contestant and former titleholders I interviewed. They want nothing more than for MAO to become the kind of woman-led, woman-centric brand they believed it could be” (Suddath). The same change can be seen in the Miss USA pageant. It has become increasingly common for women in America to use beauty pageants as a springboard for a political career (Woolf). A perfect example of this is current Miss USA and former Miss North Carolina, Chelslie Kryst. Outside of pageants, Kryst is a full-time attorney with a law degree and an MBA. She gives a huge amount of credit to Miss USA and the other pageants she has competed in saying, “I can't say enough about the skills you gain from competing in pageants, I have had to compete with interviews and on-stage questions, and work with coaches to practice how to deliver my message in 3 minutes while being concise, understandable, and persuasive. I think anyone can benefit from that training, even if they never win” (Davis).

There are so many other pageants around the world that are introducing new ideas and portions to competitions that also greatly impact contestants and society. The Miss World Eskimo-Indian Olympics pageant in Alaska, has contestants compete in different rounds of Olympic games. Teens that compete in Miss WEIO have the opportunity to learn communication skills and gain confidence through service (Maclean). The pageant events also help contestants grow public speaking skills and gain experience in influential decision-making. Another impactful pageant is the Miss Beautiful World pageant in Saudi Arabia. they do not do swimsuit or evening gown competitions. Instead, contestants are judged on their Islamic values. It also includes workshops on issues such as respect for one's parents and Islamic traditions. When talking about the pageant, founder Khadra al-Mubarak says “The winner won't necessarily be pretty, we care about the beauty of the soul” (Maclean).

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In Asia, there are also many influential pageants including Miss Philippines California, Miss India San Francisco, Miss Teen Chinatown, Miss Asian American and Miss Asia USA. These pageants and many more are all positively influencing Asian contestants by focusing less on outward beauty and more on personality, traditions and their cultural history. In India, pageants like Miss India Gala and Miss Monsoon also making an impact in contestant’s lives. Once noticed, young women immediately find a place in the world of modeling and acting (Ganguly). Several beauty pageant winners are now top Bollywood movie stars and models.

Aside from educational and career advancement as well as character building. Beauty pageants also are an outlet for contestants to gain confidence in themselves. Delores Pressley, opened up about her pageant experience saying, “As a former plus-size model, I know the disappointment of rejection based solely on appearance, both professionally and personally. Pageants helped me be able to gain confidence in myself and opened many opportunities for me that I would have never dreamed of having” (Pressley) Through the many plus-size beauty pageants and conventions Pressley has founded, she was able to create an opportunity for hundreds of women to achieve their dreams just like her. Similar to Pressley, frequent pageant contestant Eden Wood from TLC's ‘Toddlers & Tiaras’ has also gained confidence through pageants. At just 6 years old, Wood had competed in and won more than three hundred pageants. Her mother, Mickie, says that pageants have been a big self-esteem boost for her and make her feel like a princess. Through her work in the pageant industry Wood has also been able to record several music singles and land her first role in a movie. Beauty pageants also helped give confidence to Cadence Schutter, a brain cancer patient in Texas. She says pageants have been away for her to express herself and get involved as she is unable to do most activities kids her age do, like playing sports.

Beauty pageants continue to grow and change, becoming more and more beneficial to those who participate. Whether it's large franchises like Miss USA or smaller local pageants, contestants gain so much when competing. They can grow leadership skills, confidence, and other skills to be successful. With the help of scholarships, they can continue their education and start their careers. Because of that, beauty pageants continue to prove to be a benefit to contestants, preparing them to be successful as well as providing them with the confidence and platform to be advocators and grow into successful, impactful leaders of society around the world.

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Beauty Pageants: Helping to Shape Future Leaders. (2022, December 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from
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