When people think of beauty pageants, they get a certain mental image based on what they have seen from watching them on TV and from stories in the news. However, most people don’t understand what these pageants are like from the perspective of actually participating in them. I became interested in competing in pageants when I received a letter inviting me to compete for the state title in the Miss USA Organization. After some thought, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to try something new. Through some experience, I quickly learned that there is a whole other side of the stage that non-competitors never get to see. The following are a few truths and tidbits about the pageant world that you may or may not know.
1. They can be very expensive. There are entrance fees, wardrobe costs, professional head shots, physical training, interview coaching, hair and makeup services, travel and hotel accommodations, etc. Pageant directors encourage competitors to collect donations from supporters as well as professional sponsorships to help with the costs. This used to be easier years ago before the changes in the economy, however since then it has been more difficult to obtain necessary assistance without having to pay mostly out of pocket. When I went through this, I heard a lot of business owners saying, “While I would love to sponsor you, this year it’s just not in our budget.”
2. They still enforce outdated and traditional rules. Many pageants have rules that a candidate can only compete if she has never been married or given birth to a child. They have cut off ages for entering as well. The oldest you can be to compete in Miss America is 24 years old and for Miss USA it’s 26 years old. They also have title holders sign a contract stating that during their reign, they are to obliged to be of good moral character and should not bring any negative public attention to her image or the pageant’s image, otherwise her title could be revoked.
3. Taller women usually win. There’s no height requirement, but how often do we see a 5’2 Miss USA ? There has only been two Miss USA titleholders that have been 5’4. The vast majority of winners for the more prestigious pageants are between 5’6 and 5’11. This is because the pageant organization wants to promote a woman that has modeling potential on top of everything else they look for in a winner. It’s not impossible for a petite woman to win, but she must be that much better in all other areas.
4. There are specialty pageant organizations. These are pageants created specifically for shorter women under 5’6, ones for plus size women, and also pageants for older or married women. These programs are obviously not as popular but they exist for good reasons.
5. Some contestants are literally starving. Of course there are always naturally thin women competing in these pageants, but many of them tend to go overboard on restricting their consumption and spending long hours at the gym, at least during their pageant season.
6. Elite contestants start getting ready a year in advance. Only pageant newbies try to cram all their preparations into three months before the big day. Experienced contestants know what it takes to win, and they start as early as possible. It’s usually easy to tell which contestants aren’t as well prepared and are new to the pageant scene.
7. Local and state pageants aren’t so glamorous. At the lower levels of competition, there isn’t much effort put into the production of a pageant. At the national and international levels, they make it into a huge royal event with tons of fancy accommodations, much like what you see on TV. Attending a local or state pageant is comparable to watching a high school talent show.
8. There is a sisterhood in the pageant community. A lot of people think contestants are always catty and dramatic towards each other, but there are many friendships and even a family type of bond formed among winners, contestants, and pageant directors that can last for years to a lifetime. It’s not always like what you see in the movies.
These are only a few of the things I unexpectedly learned from competing in pageants. Like most people, I thought I knew what they were all about just from watching them live on TV, but it’s one of those things that you won’t know the ins and outs of until you actually participate in them yourself.