The Purposelessness of Beauty Pageants Should Be Put to An End
Many see beauty pageants as a way for the contestants to build their self-esteem and confidence. Ever since 1845, women have experienced subjectification to public judgement of their beauty at the hands of others. Once they waltzed into the 1960s, the focus had begun to shift towards children (Lieberman) As social media has evolved and become a part of people’s daily lives, it has contributed to the image of today’s beauty standards and influences these pageant’s goals. Over almost 175 years of public torment, the pageant industry has amassed a net worth of $5 billion, yet it wasn’t like this before.
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Phineas T. Barnum was a man of many wonders in the pageant community. He hosted puppy pageants, flower pageants, and of course pageants for women and children (King). Initially, his pageants didn’t take off until 60 years later (King). A different women’s pageant eventually rose to fame. Now known as the Miss America Pageant, the “Atlantic City’s Inter-City Beauty Contest” was created in 1921 (King). 200 girls were gathered from other pageants they won and competed in their bathing suits for “The Golden Mermaid”, a trophy (King). The Miss World Competition, founded by Eric Morley, surfaced in 1951 (The Origin of Beauty Pageants). The following year came Miss Universe, then Miss International in 1960, and Miss Earth in 2001 (The Origin of Beauty Pageants). These are the four largest and most famous international beauty contests in the world (The Origin of Beauty Pageants). “’Everybody tuned into Miss America back then – this was like the Oscars,’” said Alix Shulman, a protestor of the pageants (Bennett). At the time, beauty pageants were as highly adored as films, which were a staple of entertainment in the ‘20s. and helped people escape the reality of the depression that was ahead of them. Although, not all people were on board with the idea of exploiting women.
When Barnum first presented pageants, they were immediately shot down by protests and affected the success rate of his pageant-owning career (King). Radical feminist, Carol Hanisch, organized a protest on the day of the contest, September 7th, 1968 (Gay). These women boycotted products that were sponsored by the pageant, refused to speak to male reporters who wished to interview them, and didn’t allow men to participate in the protests (Gay). The women created a “womanifesto”, which presented 10 reasons as to why these protests were initiated (Gay). Their reasons varied from the prominent racism to the amount of consumerism the pageant entitles (Gay). These topics were also what restricted the types of women who could partake in the competitions.
There are plenty of limitations on the types of women who can be a part of such elite competitions. The only women who were allowed to participate in Miss America pageants when they had just begun had to be “of good health and of the white race” (qtd. Edwards). African Americans did have an appearance but only as slaves for dance performances. Therefore in 1968, J. Morris Anderson organized Miss Black America (About Us | MBA). He was inspired to do so when is daughters confided in him about wanting to become the next Miss America (Gay). A college student, Saundra Williams, took home the title of the first Miss Black America (Welch). Unlike the classic contestants of Miss America pageants, Saundra wore her hair in an afro and performed an African styled dance for her talent portion (Welch). The first Miss Black America wasn’t crowned until 1983, and her name is Vanessa Williams. Another restriction is that women couldn’t have been married or pregnant (King). 17 years later after the first Miss America pageant, the age range became 18 to 28 years old (Gay). These regulations were created because pageant creators wanted to broadcast the perfect American woman. As far as Sam Gompers was concerned, a labor leader, he wanted a woman who was, “strong, red-blooded, able to shoulder the responsibilities of homemaking and motherhood” (Hamlin). He believed that the first Miss America pageant winner, Margaret Gorman, was the perfect example of such, yet she was only 15 (Hamlin). Now having to hold up to such a prestigious title can cause a great deal of stress to develop.
The potential effects of beauty pageants on their contestants can be everlasting. These women and children can endure eating disorders due to the diets they undergo to improve their appearance. Some disorders that can occur are bulimia and anorexia. Bulimia is the act of eating and then forcing their body to throw it up afterwards, while anorexia, on the other hand, is when they’re underweight for their age and height. This most likely is the cause of not eating enough or their body not getting the sufficient nutrients and proteins it needs. As for the children, “It is developmentally inappropriate to teach a six-year-old to pose like a twenty-year-old model”, according to William Pinsoff of Family Institute at Northwestern University (Lieberman). Family therapists of these pageant stars also believe this interferes with healthy child development and results in body shame, depression, and dissatisfaction (Lieberman.) Psychologist Cartwright feels that “such competitions can display adult body dissatisfaction in their later years…”, which turned out to be true (Hassan). A study conducted in 2005 presented the information of how former beauty contestants, who performed when they were children at the time, were more dissatisfied with their bodies than the other women who had never participated in a pageant at all (Cartwright). Former queens of the Miss America pageant also felt pressured during and after the pageant. The press, and the overwhelming schedules and appearances took a toll on the Miss America winner of 1937, Bette Cooper (King). Once the queen is crowned, she is subjected to a year of community service, doing sponsorship deals, and entertaining the U.S. troops (Gay); however, after claiming the crown, she set her sights elsewhere and ventured off with her pageant escort, Louis (N.J.). She eventually showed up back home after the crowd and the hype dialed down and continued on with how her life was before pageants. She was 16 years old and all of the pressure and stress was too great to bear as she was still in high school. Nowadays, modern pageant girls have to practice their performances day in and day out for countless hours with their pageant coaches. The amount of stress she had to endure as a teen could’ve affected how she developed and became an adult, and this can have the same effect on other young adults. Massive amounts of stress can affect children and teens by the increasing risk of diabetes or heart problems. (Rosen). Miss Teen Universe of 2017 died at age 19 from a heart attack (Malm). Seeing as the average age for a woman’s first attack is 70, this is quite odd (Holston). Usually, this sort of premature attacks are genetically induced, yet her parents haven’t stated any relation of heart attacks in their family tree. Not only do pageants affect children physically, it affects the psychologically.
Doctor Martina Cartwright, who has a master’s in philosophy, created a name for the want or need for the “perfect” body image. She calls this “Princess Syndrome” as girls who are spoiled are typically called princesses and have a need to get everything they desire (Cartwright). They obtain this mindset that they are entitled to the lifestyle they now live and must be perfect. From their hair, to their outfits, makeup, and nails, everything must be up to par. Yet, most of this perfection has to deal with their appearance and nothing more. There’s no mention of education whatsoever. These girls become more dependent on their looks to guide them through life because that’s all they’ve ever known. However, those looks won’t take you far forever. Dr. Cartwright also goes into detail on how she understands if a child wants to play dress up, but, “…to insist on making that a career or to be a model…the chances are very slim.” Some pageant beauties from the show Toddlers and Tiaras have made it into the modeling business such as Kylie LaDuca and Eden Wood (Tempesta). Kylie found herself investing in a modeling career, which doesn’t have a long shelf life, therefore; she turned towards becoming an actress. She’s landed roles in popular kids shows like Team Umizoomi and Sunny Side Up (Kylie LaDuca – Imdb). Another pageant girl, Eden Wood, walked the runway at New York Fashion Week at just the age of twelve years old (Tempesta). Accomplishments such as these aren’t opportunities for fellow girls in the industry and can make it misleading for them. Other cast members from the show have said, “the heck with it” with pageants and desire to maintain an average teenage life. It’s understandable that these girls have given up the pageant life regarding how expensive it can be.
Pageants in Barnum’s time were nowhere close to as costly as they are now. No matter if it’s an adult pageant or a child pageant, contestants will be paying a pretty penny for a chance at the crown. According to Lucia Peters, a blogger for Bustle.com, the lowest amount of money you can spend on coaching, a dress, hair, makeup, and the entry fee is around $1,825 a week. Then, there are multiple categories and talents that are broadcasted within the pageant, which you also need different costumes and dresses for. Also, taking in consideration that most of these girls aren’t a “one and done” with pageants, therefore; this cost is then multiplied by how many pageants they do. The price also varies due to the amount and price of the rewards the girls can receive from pageant to pageant. The higher the reward; the higher the entry fee. The highest reward known is a $50,000 scholarship and that’s coming from the Miss America pageant, which you have to work your way up to (Narasaki). You must compete in preliminary contests in your state and becomes the Misses of your state before continuing on to the Miss America pageant (Ross). These high expenses can put a damper on the contestant’s parents. SamiJo, a cast member from Toddlers and Tiaras, has been partaking in pageants ever since she was born (Chan). Her father is completely against his SamiJo being in pageants because of the cost (Morrissey). “I think pageants are a waste of money,” he stated in one episode of the show. He believed that him and his wife, Tricia, that they spend around $100,000 on the contests (Chan). 8 months after that episode aired, Tricia gave us an update on her life in a new episode and she is now divorced and lives with her new boyfriend and four kids (Morrissey). Many wouldn’t believe that pageants could come between a married couple to the point that they’ve decided to separate.
Although most girls will conform to the pageant’s or society’s standards, other women decide to say screw it all. Miss Iceland 2015 quit a contest in Las Vegas due to the owner of the pageant advising her to lose weight if she wanted to win (Beck). She states, “If the owner of the contest really wants me to lose weight and doesn’t like me the way I am, then he doesn’t deserve to have me;” therefore, she quit (qtd. Beck). Arna believes that the owner is referring to her upper body and thighs as she is an athlete and tends to be more muscular than the other girls competing. “’Stop eating breakfast, eat just salad for lunch and drink water every evening until the contest,’” is what she was told by the owner (qtd. Beck). Competition organizers for the Miss United Continents pageant advised Miss U.K., Zoiey Smale, to do the same (R. Thompson). Zoiey’s been in the pageant industry for over a decade and it saddens her that there are pageant directors who believe you must be skinny to be beautiful (R. Thompson). She stated, “…pageant girls are more than just a number on a clothing tag.” (qtd. R. Thompson). She created a Facebook post to be honest with her supporters as to why she wasn’t going to be competing in the competition anymore. There’s a vast amount of operations these women could subject themselves to with a hefty price tag.
Plastic surgery has been a common thing amongst female celebrities, such as Cardi B and Chrissy Teigen. Using plastic surgery to give your body that bounce back after a pregnancy or maybe a car accident is understandable, but when you’re being pressured by managers and society it becomes overbearing. Most celebrity women were pressured into these things as their managers believed it’d assist with gaining more fame. Now the pressure has been passed down from the women to the children. Eight-year-old Britney Campbell is one of many kids who undergo this treatment (P. Thompson). Her mother, Kerry Campbell, was supportive of getting the treatments because it’d help her daughter in the pageants and other mothers were doing the same. There are even beauty factories, which offer girls as young as 12 different procedures like implants, liposuction, and hormone therapy. The biggest factory corporations are in Venezuela. Venezuela has dominated the pageant scene for years while acquiring seven miss Universes, six Miss Worlds, and seven Miss Internationals. On the darker side of things, these dangerous alterations can lead to death. 1994’s Miss Argentina, whose name is Solange Magnano, fatally died while receiving butt implant injections (Goud, J). The liquid used in the injections found a way to her brain and lungs (Associated Press). Plastic surgery is not worth risking your life in any situation, whether it be for pageants or personal reasons and this becomes more severe when kids get involved.
Pageants have geared their views towards children now. There was even a reality TV show especially made for them called, “Toddlers and Tiaras”. This show broadcasts the lives of various pageant children varying from ages 3 to their preteen years. Many parents who’ve viewed the show find it as terrible, ridiculous garbage (Commonsensemedia.org). “I can’t believe these kids are exploited in such an adult sexual way…”, says one parent from the site. The children are sexualized due to the costume choices for the celebrities they impersonate. One child who was a part of a Toddlers and Tiaras episode was dressed as Julia Robert’s prostitute character in the movie, “Pretty Woman” (YouTube, 2011). The flippers, something similar to dentures, makeup, hair, and nails also play a role in making the children look older than what they truly are. This adult like attitude is sometimes believed to be a simulation of what their parents would have been, if given the chance, or want to be.
Kids as young as 0 months are able to participate in pageants (Beauty Pageant), yet most would realize that a baby that’s a few weeks old can’t perform like a 2-year-old can. The parents parade their new born, or hire others to do so, on the stage through the different categories of the pageant. As the child grows up in the pageant life and has adapted to the hustle and bustle of it all, kids get to miss out on the life a normal child would possess. This is a result of the parents living through their child or trying to gain fame and assets from their child’s achievements (Nauert). Dr. Cartwright calls this, “achievement by proxy distortion” (Nauert). The parents also mix their needs up with the child’s needs as well. They might exploit the child in other to get the things they want. Tricia, the mother of SamiJo, stated, “’I decided to put SamiJo in pageants ‘cause that was the whole reason I wanted to have a daughter’” (qtd. Chan). Parents don’t only exemplify such terrible behavior, but the industry owners itself does.
Miss America CEO, Sam Haskell, has been exposed for his unjust behavior behind closed doors. Emails exchanged between himself and the lead writer of the Miss America pageant telecast, Lewis Friedman, bring light to his fat-shaming and name calling of the former Miss Americas (Ali.) Over three years’ worth of emails were scoured and were found to be full of offensive and sexist messages between Haskell and Friedman (Ali). When Miss America of 1998, Kate Shindle, released a book questioning why the board paid for Haskell’s fees when they were $400,000 in the red, Friedman was not all too peachy about the subject. Another former Miss America has died and as Friedman was paying his condolences to Haskell, he stated it should’ve been Kate instead (Ali). Haskell was very amused as he stated, “Thanks so much Coach…even in my sadness you can make me laugh…” (Ali). For a man who has been a member of the board since 2005 and was also the worldwide head of television with William Morris Entertainment (Ali), people would believe he’d have some sort of respect and class for others, especially as people use this pageant for creditability.
Many political leaders have sprouted from pageants themselves, such as Sarah Palin who boasted about her beauty pageant experience to show more reasoning as to why she was fit for Vice Presidency (Hamlin). Donald Trump had owned the competition up until his 2016 presidency and now his political involvement has been forced into the pageant questionnaire (Leeman and Brice). The first question of the Q&A portion was on Trump’s biggest notion for America: immigration. Topics such as Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the National Anthem and their opinions of the contestants on how they view political leaders, like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump himself. Testing the contestants on their opinions of politicians who run the country and have also run the pageant can jeopardize their potential for winning, therefore; the focus of the questions should be more on how to fix national issues.
Other than changing the staffing of their pageants, Miss America has decided to rid of the swimsuit portion (Lauf) and has rebranded themselves as “Miss America 2.0”. They’ve replaced the swimsuit portion with an interaction session with the judges where the contestants highlight their life achievements and goals (Bennett). They’re also reconstructing the evening gown portion, so the women can dress however they feel a formal outfit should look (Friedman). Spokesman for the organization states, “The candidates won’t be judged on how they look in their attire, but on the self-confidence they exude and what they are saying.” (qtd. Friedman).
Seeing as the pageant history has been discriminatory from the beginning and still is today with recent behavior of its owners, it is safe to say they should be banned. Despite their efforts to change the categories of he pageants, the damage has already been done. These shows have forced young women to transform themselves into unnatural beings with ridiculous diets and plastic surgery, which is just affecting more women in the general population.
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