What Do Pageants Entail?

Quck answer

Pageants are competitions where participants showcase their beauty, talent, and personality. They typically involve contestants competing in various categories such as evening wear, swimwear, talent, and interview. Pageants can be organized for different age groups, from children to adults. They are often judged based on criteria such as poise, confidence, physical appearance, intelligence, and talent. Pageants can be held at local, national, or international levels, offering opportunities for participants to win titles, prizes, and scholarships. While pageants have faced criticism for emphasizing physical beauty and promoting unrealistic standards, they also provide a platform for personal growth, self-expression, and community involvement.

Have you ever witnessed a beauty pageant? You may have observed a lineup of individuals dressed in elegant attire, with a judge determining the victor. It can be entertaining to decide which person you would choose as the winner and see if they are selected. However, what exactly is a pageant? And why do we partake in them?

Let’s begin with the term “pageant”! In the distant past, pageant did not refer to the beauty pageants we are familiar with today. Instead, a pageant was a grand celebration that the public could witness. Events such as religious holidays often incorporated a pageant. A coronation, which involves the crowning of a new king or queen, is a type of pageant. Parades, similar to the ones held for Mardi Gras or St. Patrick’s Day, are also considered pageants. Some pageants would include a form of theatrical performance. These plays were typically religious and ceremonial in nature. If you were to witness one, it would bear little resemblance to the stage plays we see today. They were intended for educational and celebratory purposes. These were known as “passion plays.”

The concept of a beauty contest is also quite ancient. It is believed that modern beauty contests trace back to medieval Europe. In Britain, for example, “May Day” festivities would involve the selection of a queen. However, the first contemporary beauty pageant was an American creation. P.T. Barnum, renowned for his circus, conceived the idea of a beauty contest. Yet, women in the 1850s were not fond of the notion of showcasing themselves in public. Barnum then devised a plan to utilize photographs instead, which proved to be more popular.

Over time, societal views on women’s roles began to evolve. Increasingly, young women began participating in in-person pageants. In 1921, the first “Miss America” contest took place, with Margaret Gorman, a sixteen-year-old, emerging as the winner.

From there, the “Miss America” pageant experienced annual growth and garnered significant popularity. However, not everyone agreed with the idea of beauty pageants. Many individuals believed that women should not display themselves in public while wearing bathing suits! As time went on, others started to perceive the contest as unfair. For instance, there was a longstanding rule that the titleholder of Miss America had to be white.

In fact, the first Black individuals to grace the Miss America stage were performers portraying enslaved people. It was not until 1970 that the first Black contestant participated in the pageant. Vanessa Williams became the first Black Miss America in 1984. Other ethnic and religious minorities also faced challenges in being part of the pageant. In 1945, the first (and only) Jewish Miss America, Bess Myerson, was crowned. The first Asian American Miss America was crowned in 2001. Today, the Miss America contest strives for diversity as an integral aspect of its mission.

Another criticism of beauty pageants is that they perpetuate harmful judgments based on appearance. In 1968, a large group of women protested against the Miss America pageant. They argued that the pageant imposed beauty standards that excluded the majority of women. Beauty standards dictate a specific way of looking that is deemed the “ideal” form of beauty. Many women felt that the pageant conveyed the message that there was only one way to be beautiful. This beauty standard disregarded women who did not conform to the typical winners’ size, shape, ability, or skin color. The first Miss America with a disability, Heather McCallum, was not crowned until 1994.

The Miss America pageant has undergone changes over time. In 2019, the organizers announced that it is no longer a pageant but a contest. According to the new rules, contestants are not evaluated based on their appearance but on their talents.

While Miss America is the most well-known beauty pageant, there are numerous others worldwide. These pageants cater to different groups, including older individuals, men, and even young children. Some communities have created their own pageants after being excluded from mainstream beauty contests. Examples include the Black Miss America pageant, pageants for disabled individuals, and pageants for the Deaf community.

Pageant contests are enjoyed by many individuals, either as spectators or participants. However, others believe that pageants have negative effects on women and society as a whole. Have you ever watched a pageant? What are your thoughts on this matter?

Try It Out

Are you ready to showcase your talents with these activities?

  • Express your opinion on beauty pageants in a persuasive essay. Use resources such as the one provided or seek assistance from an adult. Support your argument with evidence from your sources. Once you’re finished, share your essay with a friend or family member. Can you convince them?
  • Write a letter to the organizers of the 1968 Miss America protest. Share your thoughts on their protest and reflect on the changes that have occurred in the United States since then. What are your current views on beauty pageants? Share your letter with a friend or family member. To learn more about the protest and its impact, you can watch the provided videos.
  • Many beauty pageants require contestants to showcase a talent or present ideas on how to make the world a better place. If you were a contestant, what talent would you showcase? Alternatively, what plan would you propose to help others? Create a Flip video to demonstrate your talent or explain your plan. Then, share it with a friend or family member. Encourage them to create their own video as well.

Wonder Sources

  • https://www.britannica.com/dictionary (accessed 24 Mar., 2023)
  • https://www.britannica.com/art/pageant (accessed 20 Feb. 2023)
  • https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/missamerica-beauty-pageant-origins-and-culture/ (accessed 20 Feb. 2023)
  • https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/missamerica-breaking-color-line/ (accessed 21 Feb. 2023)
  • https://www.missamerica.org/organization/history/ (accessed 20 Feb. 2023)


1. What are pageants?

Pageants are competitions in which participants showcase their talents, beauty, and personality. These events typically involve contestants competing in various categories such as evening gown, talent, interview, and swimsuit. Pageants can be held at local, regional, national, or international levels. They are often organized to promote cultural diversity, raise funds for charitable causes, or celebrate beauty and talent. Pageants provide a platform for individuals to gain confidence, develop public speaking skills, and make connections in the industry. While some pageants focus solely on physical appearance, many modern pageants also emphasize intelligence, talent, and community involvement.

2. How do pageants work?

Pageants usually begin with a registration process, where individuals interested in participating fill out an application form and pay an entry fee. Once registered, contestants prepare for the competition by practicing their talent, selecting their outfits, and working on interview skills. On the day of the pageant, participants go through various rounds of competition, which may include an introduction, talent showcase, interview with judges, and a final question and answer session. Scores from each round are tallied, and the contestant with the highest overall score is crowned the winner. Additionally, there may be special awards given for categories such as Miss Congeniality or Best Talent.

3. Who can participate in pageants?

Pageants are open to individuals of various ages, genders, and backgrounds. There are pageants for children, teenagers, and adults, as well as specific categories for men and women. Some pageants are open to participants from all around the world, while others are limited to a specific region or country. Pageants often have specific eligibility requirements, such as age restrictions or residency criteria. While physical appearance is often a factor in pageants, many competitions also value personality, intelligence, talent, and community involvement. Therefore, anyone who meets the eligibility criteria and has the desire to showcase their skills and personality can participate in a pageant.

4. Are pageants only about beauty?

No, pageants are not solely about beauty. While physical appearance is often a component of pageants, they also emphasize talent, intelligence, personality, and community involvement. Many modern pageants have evolved to focus on empowering individuals and promoting social causes. Contestants are encouraged to have a platform or advocacy they support, and they often engage in community service and charity work. Pageants provide a platform for individuals to showcase their skills, talents, and achievements beyond their physical appearance. They can be a way to gain self-confidence, develop public speaking skills, and make a positive impact on society.

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