Beginning in 1951, the Miss World Competition has captivated audiences ever since. It has come a long way since it was the humble Festival Bikini Contest. Since its beginnings, Miss World has been controversial, especially with feminists.
Indeed, the contest largely began as an objectification of women, a competition that only judged beauty. It wasn’t until 1980 that the intelligence and personality portions came into the contest, although even these don’t always seem particularly well measured.
Miss World was, and still is, largely about the female aesthetic, but the question remains: Is that always a bad thing? In 1970 and 71, the pageant came under fire from feminist protesters. Since then, it has been criticized by a large portion of the public for the same reasons. Regardless, the contest seems to have more fans than adversaries and remains insanely popular.
All over the world, Miss World is one of the most-watched live contests yearly. Whether people are watching it for the bikini portion or for the women’s personalities, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon. The following photos from the Miss World competition over the years frame some of the most iconic and interesting moments in the pageant’s history.
10. Agbani Darego: Miss World 2001
Agbani Darego won the Miss World competition in 2001. At the time, she was only 18 years old. In addition to having aspirations to become a model, Darego was also a computer science student. The whole brains and beauty angle worked wonders for the Nigerian contestant, and perhaps for good reason.
As she was handed her title, an audience of 1.2 billion people watched worldwide. Before accepting her crown, the winner announced that “black is beautiful.” She was the first black African woman to win the title in the history of Miss World.
9. Rolene Strauss: Miss World 2014
Just this year, Rolene Strauss became the new face of the Miss World competition. The 22 year old is from South Africa and vows to assist in spreading education in her country. As a medical student herself, education and realizing potential are both major points of interest for her.
As the winner of the most recent Miss World, Strauss was able to compete in many different aspects of the contest, including a debate. She represents a new era of pageants that value (at least more) intelligence and education.
8. Eva Reuber-Staier: Miss World 1969
Eva Rueber-Staier, seated above, is captured in an iconic moment. An Austrian winner, Eva was also an actress who participated in both beauty pageants and films. Sitting on her throne with the royal cape, crown and scepter, as well as swimsuit, the blonde beauty is the archetypal pageant queen.
But she is also surrounded by her fellow contestants, who are all congratulating her as the epitome of the ultimate feminine soul. This photo represents the element of female solidarity that is often overlooked by critics of the world’s biggest beauty pageant.
7. Kiki Haakonson: Miss World 1951
Sweden’s Kiki Haakonson was the very first Miss World winner. She stands, beaming and waving to the assembled crowd as she prepares for her new role as Miss World. She is both the first and last contestant to be given her crown in a two-piece swimsuit. At the time, and for decades afterwards, the outfits of the Miss World contestants were criticized as being too revealing – it seems the scandalous outfits were more unsettling for viewers than the objectification of the women themselves.
Kiki’s winning win paved the way for the many more decades of the competition.
6. Reita Faria: Miss World 1966
India’s first Miss World winner appeared in 1966. Reita Faria was an extremely popular win. She was poised, beautiful and intelligent. Indeed, she became a doctor shortly after; she was praised and looked up to for her expertise and intelligence even more than her beauty, for the most part.
This photo is of Reita in South Vietnam. She and Bob Hope both travelled there to entertain troops. Commended as one of the most down to earth contestants, Reita was and still is an important winner of the competition.
5. Miss World Protests: 1970
The Miss World competition has never been free from scandal. Whether it’s due to the revealing outfits or the objectification of the female contestants, there will always be those who disagree with its premise.
In the late 60s and early 70s, feminists were demanding a more public voice. Realizing how unfairly women were treated and looked upon, protesters attempted to even the playing field. In 1970, feminist activists broke onto the stage of the Miss World Beauty (the word Beauty may be the problem here) Competition and threw ink.
At the time, and still today, there was outrage at the way in which women were objectified for entertainment. Unfortunately, any magazine or advert today makes it apparent that not much has changed. The Miss World Competition, though it has added other portions aimed at judging the women on their many individual merits, is still fundamentally about the outward beauty of women.
4. Miss World Competition: 1973
Contestants in the 1973 Miss World Contest prepare for an elimination round by lining up in front of the audience and judges. This dramatic photo captures one of the main themes of Miss World – contestants are lined up, vulnerable in skimpy swimwear, ready for judgment to be reigned down on them. They are, almost literally, in the firing line.
3. Zhang Zilin: Miss World 2007
Zhang Zilin was another of Miss World’s most iconic contestants, as Miss China. Incredibly, a full 56 years after the inception of the competition, Zilin was the first East Asian winner of the Miss World crown.
This is both a great achievement for Zhang Zilin and a sad fact about the diversity of the competition: Despite being the most populous country in the world, it took this long before the beauty and talent of Chinese women was recognized in the Western-dominated Miss World competition.
2. Halle Berry: Miss World Contestant 1986
Halle Berry was a contestant in Miss World 1983. She did not win, yet she remains one of the most memorable contestants to ever grace the stage. Following the contest she went on to star in dozens of movies. The Oscar winner is probably over her loss, but it remains a cherished memory for the star. She especially dazzled the audience with her national costume consisting of stars and stripes.
1. Lesley Langley: Miss World 1965
This photo is of Miss World winner, Lesley Langley. She was from Weymouth, England and won the title in 1965. Although the competition had only been around since 1951, she became the third woman from England to win. Eventually becoming a dental assistant, Langley first served at the Royal Merchant Navy School.
The iconic photo above perhaps best captures what the competition was originally about. Langley stands on ceremony, attended as if she’s royalty by the adoring audience below her. Her royal looking cape and crown enhance this look, while dozens of photographers scramble to immortalize her beautiful image for future years.
This moment speaks volumes not just about the Miss World contest, but of our society’s unquestioning adoration of beauty.