The History of Pageants and Insight on Their Existence

Updated on November 28, 2018
Margaret Gorman
Margaret Gorman | Source

The History Behind It All

Many sources around the web claim pageant-like events started popping up around America in the late 1800's, but it really took a stronghold and gained popularity in 1917 when America began to show interest in "bathing beauties" in which women in swimsuits were judged upon their appearance.

By 1922, Miss America became a reality with Margaret Gorman as the winner of a pageant. The Miss America pageant received it's name from young 16 year old Margaret being dressed in lady Liberty's crown and shrouded in a fabric that had stripes like the American flag. Young Margaret received comments from the New York Times, stating, “She represents the type of womanhood America needs; strong, red-blooded, able to shoulder the responsibilities of home-making and motherhood. It is in her type that the hope of the country resides.”

Fast forward to the 1940's and the pageants were put on hold by war, where a few useful things came about. Contestants sold many war bonds and started offering scholarships for women who won.

From then until now, nearly 70 years later, the Miss America pageants grew and gained a few more positives like increased educational funding, increased efforts in supporting the soldiers of America, and a new focus on talents in addition to beauty, however, the beauty contest itself is still the main focus of these pageants.

15 year old Sophia Loren at a beauty contest
15 year old Sophia Loren at a beauty contest | Source

Insight on Beauty Contests and their Harm to Females

I'm no professional and these are my own opinions, but here are my two cents on the subject. Though Miss America pageants and some other pageants have offered women some educational advancement, they are doing more harm for females in society than empowerment.

The larger, well-known pageants have inspired many other small regional pageants around America alone. Many of them having contestants in baby, toddler (I'm sure you've seen Toddlers and Tiaras), young child, pre-teen and teen categories. These are the ages in which children develop their view of the world and themselves.

What do you think they will learn after many years of pageants in childhood other than that they as a female are an image to be judged, and that they should be comparing themselves with every other female around them?Many of these smaller regional beauty pageants hold no other rewards other than a trophy, crown or ribbon for beauty.

I saw a pageant newsletter today for an acquaintance's child and nearly cringed at what it said these toddlers were being judged on and pitted against each other for ("beauty, prettiest hair, eyes, smile" - that's from the newsletter, word for word). It makes me wonder how grown adults can judge a toddler's appearance - I know I certainly couldn't. These pageants are targeted towards females in particular in age groups in which they are most impressionable about themselves and the world around them.

These babies and toddlers will soon believe that they are only worth their image. They will turn into children who become hyper-aware of everyone's appearance, including their own. These children will turn into teenagers who end up looking in the mirror and picking themselves apart, along with every other person they see. These females will begin to neglect all the other precious parts of who they are because they've learned that they are only worth what they look like.

It's extremely unhealthy to be teaching our girls that they are only worth their image and that they will be awarded in life if only they are pretty enough. We already have plenty of cosmetic, diet, and plastic surgery companies telling females that we're not good enough based on appearance alone... Why reinforce that with an outdated beauty contest that targets women?

While there are some good things that can come of these pageants such as educational benefits and such, why is it at the price of having a female child to be reduced to an image. Shouldn't we demand more than having to be put on display as an image to receive educational advancement.

I can only hope that if I have a daughter someday, the world will have shifted and changed it's perspective on females. I will do my best to protect her from a world that only wants to reduce her to an object for consumption. I will do my best to help her develop a mindset that doesn't say "look how pretty I am" (though I will definitely let her know she is perfect in every way, as she will be), but rather one that says "look what I can do", "hear what I know", "see my beautiful mind". I will never want her to believe that she is first and foremost only worth what she looks like.

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing at all wrong in taking pride in your appearance, but there is something very wrong with publicly making a game of pitting females (especially children) against each other and emphasizing the stress on appearance.

I read a quote somewhere before and it sums up exactly how girls should be taught to empower each other in a world that is so ready to teach them otherwise. The quote said "I am a daisy and you are a rose - we are both just different kinds of beautiful."


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This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.


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    • profile image


      16 months ago

      Hi! Teenage pageant queen here. I just wanted to say that it is through pageantry that I started loving my body. Pageants don't "pit" girls against one another, on the contrary, it gives you a sisterhood of women who support through every step of your journey in a world of people like you who create biases and stereotypes without ever really witnessing or being in an actual pageant. Toddler and Tiaras is a joke. Everyone in my pageant community thinks so. It's part of the GLITZ pageant systems. But normal beauty and all natural pageants are so very different. It is often said that pageants are won through the interview. This means that they are won based on the girl's personality, her intelligence, her communication skills. Sure, the on-stage portion does count, but we are not looking for the best body. We're looking for the person who eyes genuinely sparkle, the girl who walks with confidence and a real smile on her face. Pageants have given me a family and have helped see that my body is beautiful despite any curves or dips. Please do more research on a subject before you slaughter its image like you just (very gracefully) did.

    • limpet profile image

      Ian Stuart Robertson 

      3 years ago from London England

      If that is Sophia Loren at the age of 15, it is little wonder that she had such a successful career as a star.


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