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The Ugly Truth About Beauty Pageants

Looking at this 2011’s Miss New York USA’s top 7 unearths no new memories. The white-garbed winner, Amber Collins, took the lead. About one year ago, I entered and lost my first beauty pageant in that same hotel – and I’ve mentally walked through every moment of that weekend five times over.

What you don’t see from looking at the photos or watching Miss USA in the spring is how these women get there. How low rent state-level competitions are. How the contestants who never get anywhere look. It’s a bizarre and fascinating experience, one that I wouldn’t dissuade any woman from trying out herself.

I can only describe it as a brain-bending, empty calorie endorphin rush, like drinking a pink can of Tab in one enormous gulp. It’s watching the water turn brown as you wash off the pancake makeup. It’s the exhaustion as you perfectly turn out one false eyelash for the fifth time. The headiness of a post-workout glow, then staring yourself down in the gym mirror, hair wispy and skin sallow. Then you look around and realize that all your efforts are for naught – the girls who end up in the top ten rigged the genetic lottery in their favor.

Truth: A State Pageant Isn’t Glamorous

Mostly, though, it is realizing what a cheap, tawdry spectacle a state pageant is. The audience is filled with family members; the runway is in the same room a million bored hotel guests have brunched in; the vast majority of contestants are not Amazonian, but rather, perfectly ordinary girls with cellulite snapped into prom dresses. It’s produced suspiciously like your high school talent show, but with a $1000 entry fee and everyone’s talent is walking in lucite platform heels.

What are these girls even competing for? The prize package is getting your entry fee reimbursed, plus some donated baubles and a small scholarship you’ll never use to a school you’ve never heard of. You get to spend a month doing photo ops and rehearsals in Las Vegas in hopes of becoming Miss USA. If you win Miss USA, you try to win Miss Universe. And then… You’re a beautiful woman. Paparazzi snidely speculate on your plastic surgery. Congratulations – you spend your days traveling, doing charitable work, making appearances, and maintaining the good lucks that won you your title.

I gave it my best shot.

Of course, you can use your title for good, to advance a cause you believe in or use the appearance schedule to groom your public speaking. Maybe it will help you land a modeling or acting job you’ve always dreamed of. Some incredible women, accomplished in their own right, have won crowns too.

The rest end up with a gift bag or a plaque if they’re lucky. In photos, outsiders only see the one girl who won out of 200 entrants. The ones who don’t win are infinitely more interesting.

Truth: They Don’t Actually “Select” You.

… If only because you can smell, at the grassroots, the booming heartbeat of the beauty industry. Why do so many women fork over $1000, pay for their own expensive evening dresses and swimsuits never to be swam in, to walk down some cheap runway for a crown unlikely to materialize?

It’s because contestants truly believe they were “selected” to participate after applying and getting an email telling them they’ve been “accepted”. That the color of their money, to a producer, is different than anyone else’s. This is not every contestant, but it is significant proportion. I would see some girls so clueless that I would offer to lend them hair curlers and makeup to assuage my guilt.

My own optimism swung wildly from one pole to the other, coupled with uncomfortable feeling that entering a pageant seemed to give classmates the provisional right to judge me.

Truth: The Swimsuit Portion Is Not That Hard

To announce you’re entering a pageant is to open the floodgates of judgement. It is every student’s worst fear – making oneself vulnerable to strangers, to fail so spectacularly and publicly.

I will never regret entering Miss New York USA 2010, however, because I found that no one really cared that much I had failed. It was an instructive experience. No one had really expected me to win, I think, and there was something incredibly freeing about that. I was more fixated on my small gaffes – swinging one arm too much walking in swimsuit, awkward interviews with judges – not on the crown I had never felt was mine in the first place.

And for the record, I found that one doesn’t feel ashamed onstage in a swimsuit so much as blinded – the lights are bright; they say your name, you walk, shivering with anxiety, stomach taut and starved. Then the camera flashes. You are done. You feel euphoria, relief.

This is what they call “everyone is a winner.” You’ve just survived, or you’ve been suckered. It’s not hard to see why the first option is more appealing for most.


14 Responses to “The Ugly Truth About Beauty Pageants”

  1. It seems that you have too many “happy” memories in this pageant. Based on how you have expressed your feelings about this pageant, it seems that this type of competition is not suited for you and that things didn’t work out as what you have expected to be. I guess people have their own perception and experiences to share whether it is something positive or negative for them. I think what is important in here is the learning that you have gained from joining this competition.

    Posted by Lucy | December 13, 2010, 1:11 pm
    • Yes, with due respect, I really know how much or how hard it is not to win your first pageant. Joining it for the first time without the guidance of those who really did before or without a pageant coach would be like your in a dessert.

      Beauty pageant is a very wide science actually, you may get lost right away on the winning track the moment you have qualified for the pageant. I have here a detailed article on How to be in a pageant but I could not guarantee to make someone win. I just could guarantee that it can help someone a lot.


      Posted by Gaudencio C. Callanta Jr. | April 24, 2013, 8:20 pm
  2. Well I’m enetering a pageant soon and have no experience

    Posted by naomi | October 7, 2012, 7:33 am
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  6. I actually agree with this article, I too entered a Miss completion to be exceptionally let down. The whole thing seemed tacky and half way through the competition I felt regret for spending a high amount of money to be judged. I feel bad for people who try to condone this behavior and trick people into thinking its a good idea. I will never let my future daughter ever enter.

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  8. I definitely agree that this article presents a different view point. However, I’ve competed in the Miss and Teen ( New York USA) competitions numersous times. Many time I have placed and landed as a runner up and other times I did not place at all.
    What I’ve learned and gained through competing through the years has been invaluable.

    I’ve learned the important of truly being “prepared” in a stressful or randomw situation, I’ve learned to be graceful under pressure, and to show up and give it you all.
    In addition, I’ve gain friends of wonderful young women who now have gone on to be famous singer, doctors,attorneys, and business owners.
    Pageants aren’t all that bad. YES! There are some that aren’t constructive. But it is safe to say that there are pageants that help groom,and prepare young women to succedd.

    Posted by Melissa | October 13, 2013, 9:01 pm
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Lana Lingbo Li

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