Are Beauty Pageants Relevant to the 21st Century?

Photo Credit:

Photo Credit:

What is the purpose of beauty pageants today? To make money for the media? To entertain the masses? To affirm beautiful women of their beauty? To celebrate female beauty? As beauty pageants have sparked many debates over the centuries, let’s take a deeper look at the evolution of this American tradition.  

How Beauty Pageants Started

Beauty contests are said to have been around since Ancient Greece, starting with the Judgement of Paris: a myth about goddesses Hera, Aphrodite and Athena competing over who was the most beautiful. There are even stronger traces of it in the medieval era, where queens were selected to symbolize bounty and community during European festivals.

Judgement of Paris, Peter Paul Rubens (1636) Image Credit: Wikipedia

Judgement of Paris, Peter Paul Rubens (1636)
Image Credit: Wikipedia

But the first actual beauty contest was during the Victorian era with Phineas T. Barnum (yes, the circus guy). He tried to capitalize on the commercial entertainment of his national contests (such as best animal, best flower, etc.) by having women submit anonymous photographs of themselves to be judged on their beauty. Its success inspired other city newspapers to hold similar contests to boost morale and attract newcomers, voting on which woman represented the “spirit” of their community.

Newspaper Beauty Contest Photo Credit:

Newspaper Beauty Contest
Photo Credit:

This led the way for beauty pageants to be regularly held as entertainment for the middle class and tourists. In 1921, Atlantic City held the first Miss America pageant as a tourist attraction for Labor Day. This time crowds and judges voted on a young woman who represented the “spirit” of America: “strong, red-blooded, able to shoulder the responsibilities of homemaking and motherhood. It is in her type that the hope of the country rests.

Margaret Gorman, First Miss America (1921) Photo Credit:

Margaret Gorman, the first Miss America (1921)
Photo Credit:

Are They Good or Bad?

A quick look on shows what people say are the pros and cons of beauty pageants today:


  • Helps get rid of stage fright and boosts confidence
  • Helps girls feel beautiful inside and out
  • Provides scholarships and grants
  • Teaches girls to express themselves
  • Gives girls an alternative for sports


  • Promotes sexist views, objectifying and sexualizing girls
  • Lowers self-esteem because of the main emphasis on physical beauty
  • Makes girls more cocky than confident
  • More money is spent than earned
  • Pressures girls to strive for unattainable perfection, leading to depression, eating disorders and poor body-image

Most of the pros and cons can be true for any other competition: gymnastics, swimming, skating, dancing, debate team, mathletes, etc.. On the flip side, the pressure to be intellectual can have the same effect on self-worth to the point where failing an exam deems you worthless. Without proper support and unconditional love, they can all lead down the same paths of cockiness or low self-esteem.  

Beauty Pageants Are Outdated

So if they’re not as different as any other competition, what’s the big deal? Well it seems the hangup is the part where women are being judged on beauty, physical appearance, and sexual appeal. Beauty is subjective. It’s not quite like having the ability to solve a trigonometry equation – there’s multiple viewpoints on what makes an individual “beautiful.” Regardless if the women showcase other talents, answer altruistic questions, win money, and promote their charitable platforms, the fact still remains that they’re mainly being judged on outer beauty.

MIss America 2013 Photo Credit:

Miss America 2013
Photo Credit:

Personally, I have to take the more liberal side and say that beauty pageants are outdated. With the way gender roles have been changing and women becoming more empowered, the ideal woman who truly represents the “spirit” of America has changed tremendously in the 21st century. Gone are the days when only boys were told they could be president and girls aspired to be beauty queens. The traditions in which the beauty pageants are rooted in are no longer relevant today.

Photo Credit: Time

Photo Credit: Time 

It’s Time to Show Real Beauty

Dove "Real Beauty" Campaign Photo Credit: Visible Measures

Dove “Real Beauty” Campaign
Photo Credit: Visible Measures

Today, real beauty is all about being authentic and transcendent. If we truly want to celebrate beauty, there should be more than one type of women competing. Regardless of ethnicity, women should not have to put on makeup, walk in heels and meet certain beauty standards to enter. I’m not saying we get rid of the “girly girls” from the competition. I’m merely saying we should include all types of women in beauty pageants now, from petite and plus size to fashionistas and tomboys.

Until then, women need to balance beauty and brains. They need to understand that they don’t have to bank their self-worth only on physical appearance or only on intellect. True beauty and confidence is knowing your worth as a human being.

About Ronnell Morris

Ronnell is the Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of NWYT. She is a copywriter by day, a performer by night, and a triathlete by weekend. She loves Disney, musicals, eating, YouTube videos, list-making, and the colors pink and gray too much for her own good. See All of Ronnell’s Posts


  1. Great points. Another main difference between pageants and other competitions is that pageants are exclusive to women. Men would never be subject to a competition like this (at least not on as grand a scale as Miss America/Miss Universe). There are plenty of other activities that come with evils like lower self-esteem, wasted money and insane pressure, but pageants are especially malignant because only women (and sadly, sometimes little girls) are put through them.

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