Should Beauty Pageants Still Exist in 2021?

A new Miss Universe will be crowned tonight… but what’s the point of all this pageantry?

India Snow
May 16 · 6 min read
Photo by Alice Alinari on Unsplash

“If the New Miss Universe cannot fulfill her duties, the runner-up will take her place.”

The audience remains silent as two girls clasp each other’s hands on stage, each hoping to hear their country’s name announced by the hosts.

“…And the new Miss Universe is…”

  • The runner-up congratulates the shocked winner as she’s led away by a producer with flowers
  • The now-former Miss Universe congratulates her successor with a diamond-filled crown worth thousands as she tries to pin it to her wavering head
  • Miss Teen USA brings flowers and and a producer arrives with the Miss Universe sash

Within seconds, the transition is complete.

From years of preparation to now-roaring crowd — a new crown, sash, and bouquet adorn the new pageant winner, Queen of the Universe.

As determined by 8–10 judges at the foot of the stage, of course.

Photo by Gift Habeshaw on Unsplash

One of the first recorded pageants in modern history is the Miss America Pageant of 1921. The winner was a sixteen-year old woman named Margaret Gorman.

Although there were just a few beauty queens who competed for the title at the time, Gorman’s win seemed to solidify the place in American culture for beauty — and that winners of events like these could sell.

They could sell ideas, products — and most importantly — beauty products.

I can see it now — the women of 1921–1925 realizing that they need to start using some of these beauty products to even somewhat resemble the youthful beauties that the media can’t stop talking about.

A little mascara here, a little lipstick there.

A little hair product — and you’ve spent all of your hard earned money (or your husband’s, depending on what your life was like in the 1920’s) on products to look like the girls in the shows.

Social media was different then, but women throughout the years have continued to capitalize — or lose everything — from this overnight fame.

Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash

The Miss USA (now Miss Universe Organization) was formed after Catalina Swimwear, a Miss America sponsor, decided to create its own pageant.

The Miss Universe Organization now holds a yearly event where queens from around the world compete for the title of Miss Universe, widely considered to be the largest and most prestigious title in the pageant world.

The “big four” international beauty pageants include:

  • Miss World
  • Miss International
  • Miss Earth
  • and of course… Miss Universe.

You’d be surprised, but some large-ish celebrities have had roots in some of these pageant systems. For example:

  • Olivia Culpo, Miss Universe 2012 (Originally Miss Rhode Island, then Miss USA) covered Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition this last year and is dating football star Christian McCaffrey. Olivia has a massive modeling career in her own right, and she’s even set to co-host tonight’s pageant.
  • Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters (now Tebow), Miss Universe 2017 (from South Africa) is now — very clearly married to Tim Tebow. That’s not all she’s doing — she has a successful modeling and advocacy career. Her younger sister recently passed away and Demi carries on her legacy by speaking at events about their experiences together.
  • Priyanka Chopra (now Jonas) was crowned Miss World 2000 (from India). She married musician Nick Jonas and has an extremely successful acting career that stretches from Bollywood to Hollywood — a feat that many have tried, few have mastered.
  • Vanessa Williams was Miss America in 1984 and despite quite a bit of controversy, was the first black Miss America to be crowned
  • Gal Gadot was Miss Israel in 2004 and competed in the Miss Universe pageant. Our modern Wonder Woman supposedly surprised herself by winning Miss Israel at all and (may or may not) have thrown her Miss Universe performance so she wouldn’t win.
  • Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach from the Philippines may be one of the most famous Miss Universe winners after Steve Harvey mistakenly gave the crown to Colombia’s queen — until it was awkwardly corrected after several minutes (2015).

This list is by no means comprehensive, and could go on for quite a while.

Even Michelle Pfeiffer, Halle Berry, and Oprah Winfrey are former pageant queens.

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

In most cases, yes.

However, they do quite a bit more than that, depending on the location.

In many countries around the world, beauty pageants are seen as a way for women to not only make a name for themselves, but for their platforms.

This often comes from personal experience, so that they have a story and their hearts are truly in it.

For example, Demi-Leigh Nel Peters, Miss Universe 2017 from South Africa experienced a carjacking where her life was threatened.

She then took self-defense classes and worked to be able to bring those classes to women in South Africa — and also around the world.

Other pageant queens might be passionate about clean water, clean energy, or have partnered with organizations like Smile Train to help children born with cleft palates and lips.

They usually consist of several rounds including:

  • Interview
  • Swimsuit or sportswear
  • Evening Gown
  • Talent
  • Final question or statement

Depending on the pageant, different parts may be worth more or less.

“Talent” is a round that has been quite controversial over the years and does not exist in many of the major pageants, like Miss USA.

Swimsuit has been turned into sportswear, or completely cut out by certain systems, such as Miss America.

This was supposedly a turn to put the focus more on the competitors and what they have to offer — and take the spotlight away from their bodies.

Photo by Ussama Azam on Unsplash

Miss Universe’s tagline is “confidently beautiful”.

These pageants are looking for a woman to represent their organization for a year — and want someone who can do it well.

Someone who won’t crack under pressure and if needed — can sell products and ideas.

Someone who can speak well — and to whom people will listen.

In some countries, these women are their largest celebrities we’ve seen in recent times — and gain instant millions of followers after their crowning moments.

  • Are beauty pageants toxic to young girls who look up to those beauty ideals, or have they transformed in a more inclusive way?
  • Should categories be changed to fit with the times?
  • Is it worth it to have pageants like this anymore when women have many more platforms than they used to — say in 1921?
  • Do you think they should still exist in today’s world — are they harmful, or helpful?


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India Snow

Written by

Real-life Khaleesi, writer, solo-traveler, teacher, chai addict. Writing, health, & crypto enthusiast.


Outstanding stories objectively and diligently selected by 40+ senior editors on ILLUMINATION

India Snow

Written by

Real-life Khaleesi, writer, solo-traveler, teacher, chai addict. Writing, health, & crypto enthusiast.


Outstanding stories objectively and diligently selected by 40+ senior editors on ILLUMINATION

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