Beauty pageants are a mainstay of American entertainment. Its contestants are celebrities put on pedestals for men to adore and women to envy. But at what cost?
Pageants set a bad example for our youth by subjecting the contestants to unhealthy scrutiny, placing emphasis on beauty over brains, requiring significant financial investment and detrimentally affecting self-esteem.
Women who participate in beauty pageants are critiqued before and after their crowning, much like presidential candidates. Any skeletons in their closets are outed for the world to see and judge.
Women are contractually obligated by the Miss Nebraska pageant to “be of good health and moral character.” If winners do not conform to these rules, they could be stripped of their title.
Countless contestants, including Katie Rees (Miss Nevada USA 2007) and Danielle Lloyd (Miss Great Britain 2006), have had compromising photos released, the latter having posed for Playboy prior to participating in the pageant. Both women were stripped of their titles after their respective incidents.
Katie Blair, Miss Teen USA 2006, was forced to give up her crown after it was revealed she enjoyed a drunken night of snorting cocaine and dancing on tables with Miss USA Tara Connor. She was a former spokeswoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, but was removed from that position after her bout of underage drinking. Young girls idolize these women, which encourages them to replicate their behavior.
Competitors at the national or international level have a few common attributes: they are tall, tan and thin. They often spend hours per day rigorously training and going on crash diets to lose weight.
While pageants heavily emphasize parading scantily clad women around a stage, they also ask participants complex, charged questions. Some contestants lack any coherent answers; Caitlin Upton, Miss South Carolina Teen USA 2007, was asked her thoughts on why one-fifth of Americans can’t find the United States on a map. Instead of directly answering the question, she responded something to do with “the Iraq” and “Asian countries” and “their need for the support of the American educational system.” If any further evidence was needed that the contest is based solely on physical attributes and not on the ability to construct educated answers on current issues, Upton still ended the competition as third runner-up.
That’s not to say all participants come unprepared. When current Miss USA Kara McCullough was asked whether or not she believed affordable health care for all U.S. citizens is a right or a privilege, she responded, “I’m definitely going to say it’s a privilege. As a government employee, I am granted healthcare. And I see firsthand that for one to have health care, you need to have jobs.” While her response was not the most popular, she gave her opinion in an eloquent manner. The vast majority of contestants don’t reply with educated answers, perpetuating the idea that beauty outweighs brains.
It’s true that beauty pageants can open doors for contestants, including scholarships, leadership positions and more. However, these perks come at the cost of thousands of dollars invested in fees, photography, wardrobes, coaches and a litany of other beauty and travel costs. The amount of money won at a pageant may or may not be more than what was initially paid, and many participate in multiple contests per year.
Most beauty pageant participants began their pageant careers at a young age. Some develop deep-set self esteem issues while struggling to keep up with appearances. This can lead to eating disorders and countless other psychological issues that often follow them into adulthood.
Knowing all this is true, what are we teaching our daughters? The continued support of beauty pageants for the last 70 years sends the message that self-worth lies in physical beauty, not brains, personality or talents. Viewers give ratings and ratings give beauty pageants the strength it needs to continue monetizing women.
This commercialization of women must stop. Girls need to be taught that an education will outlast physical perfection. Their careers will fulfill them more than a crown ever will. Let them find their talents, whether it be in Quidditch, chess, basketball or dance. Let’s encourage them to read. Inspire them through our own actions. Embolden them by making them believe that they are beautiful in their own way. Support them in their quest to follow their dreams.
In the words of a Georgia mother who wrote a letter to the mothers of all daughters around the world, “as for my girls, I’ll raise them to think they breathe fire.” While pageants are a mainstay in American culture, that’s not to say we can’t diminish their value.