Beauty Pageants: Celebration of Beauty or Discrimination in Disguise?

22 May 2024

Beauty pageants have long been a staple of popular culture, celebrated for showcasing the grace, talent, and beauty of participants. However, they are also the subject of significant controversy, with critics arguing that these competitions promote superficial standards of beauty and reinforce discriminatory norms. This article explores both perspectives, examining the history, evolution, and societal impact of beauty pageants.

The History and Evolution of Beauty Pageants

Early Beginnings

The concept of beauty pageants dates back to ancient times when events akin to modern-day pageants were held to honor the most beautiful women. However, the formal beauty pageant as we know it began in the early 20th century.

- The First Miss America: The Miss America pageant, one of the most famous and enduring beauty pageants, was established in 1921 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Originally designed to boost tourism, it quickly became a national phenomenon.
- Global Expansion: Following the success of Miss America, international pageants such as Miss Universe (founded in 1952) and Miss World (founded in 1951) emerged, further popularizing the concept.

Modern Developments

Beauty pageants have evolved significantly over the decades, incorporating various changes to address criticisms and stay relevant.

- Inclusion of Talent and Intelligence: To counter accusations of superficiality, many pageants now include talent competitions, interviews, and social impact initiatives, evaluating contestants on more than just physical appearance.

- Diversity and Inclusivity: There has been a gradual shift towards greater inclusivity, with more diverse representations of race, body type, and age. Notable milestones include the crowning of the first African-American Miss America, Vanessa Williams, in 1983, and the first transgender Miss Universe contestant, Angela Ponce, in 2018.

Celebrating Beauty and Empowerment

Platform for Talent and Advocacy

Proponents of beauty pageants argue that these events provide a valuable platform for showcasing talent and advocating for important causes.

- Showcase for Talent: Contestants often perform in various talent segments, demonstrating skills in music, dance, and other arts, which can lead to career opportunities in entertainment and beyond.

- Advocacy and Charity Work: Many pageants require contestants to engage in charitable activities and social causes. Winners often use their titles to raise awareness and funds for issues such as education, health, and women's rights.

Personal Development and Confidence

Participating in beauty pageants can foster personal growth and confidence among contestants.

- Skill Development: Contestants receive training in public speaking, stage presence, and interview techniques, which can be valuable in their professional and personal lives.

- Confidence and Self-Esteem: For many participants, the experience of competing helps build self-confidence and a sense of achievement, regardless of the outcome.

Criticisms and Controversies

Reinforcement of Superficial Standards

Critics argue that beauty pageants perpetuate narrow and unrealistic standards of beauty that can be harmful.

- Objectification of Women: Pageants often emphasize physical appearance, leading to the objectification of women and reinforcing the idea that their value lies in their looks.

- Unrealistic Beauty Ideals: The promotion of specific body types, facial features, and grooming standards can contribute to unhealthy body image issues and low self-esteem among women and girls.

Discrimination and Exclusion

Despite efforts to promote diversity, beauty pageants have been criticized for exclusionary practices.

- Racial and Cultural Bias: Historically, beauty pageants have favored Eurocentric standards of beauty, marginalizing contestants from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds.

- Gender and Sexuality: While some progress has been made, beauty pageants often exclude or marginalize individuals based on gender identity and sexual orientation, maintaining traditional gender roles.

Psychological and Physical Health Concerns

The pressure to conform to beauty standards can have adverse effects on participants' health.

- Eating Disorders and Body Dysmorphia: The intense focus on body image can lead to eating disorders and body dysmorphia among contestants striving to meet the idealized standards.

- Mental Health Issues: The competitive nature of pageants, combined with public scrutiny and judgment, can contribute to anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges.

Balancing Celebration and Critique

Towards a More Inclusive and Empowering Future

For beauty pageants to remain relevant and positive, ongoing reforms are necessary.

- Expanding Criteria for Success: Continued emphasis on talent, intelligence, and social impact, alongside physical appearance, can help create a more holistic and inclusive standard.

- Promoting Diversity: Greater efforts to include contestants of different races, body types, gender identities, and abilities can make pageants more representative of society's diversity.

- Supporting Health and Well-being: Providing psychological support, promoting healthy body image, and setting realistic beauty standards are essential steps towards a more positive pageant culture.


Beauty pageants sit at the intersection of celebration and controversy. While they offer opportunities for empowerment, advocacy, and personal growth, they also risk reinforcing harmful stereotypes and exclusionary practices. Striking a balance between these competing perspectives requires ongoing efforts to reform and adapt pageants to reflect more inclusive and diverse standards of beauty. By doing so, beauty pageants can evolve into platforms that truly celebrate the multifaceted nature of human beauty and potential.


1. Banet-Weiser, S. (1999). The Most Beautiful Girl in the World: Beauty Pageants and National Identity. University of California Press.

2. Holland, S. P. (2010). The Erotic Life of Racism. Duke University Press.

3. Sullivan, N. (2018). "The First Transgender Woman to Compete in Miss Universe Opens Up About Her Journey." Time. Retrieved from [Time](

4. Warner, B. (2018). Unmasking the Beauty Pageant. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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