There are hundreds of different beauty pageants in America. From big cities to small towns spanning all ages, pageants are still one of the oldest and most popular traditions. Although they seem to represent the height of normalcy – at least in terms of conventional standards of beauty – there are plenty of little known facts about beauty pageants that make this tradition appear truly weird.
The many things you don’t know about beauty pageants are by turns unexpected and seriously strange. Despite some criticisms from groups who disparage the values espoused by the world of beauty pageants, they are still a large part of American culture – and a much bigger part than we might realise, as the following stats will demonstrate.
15. 2.5M Women in US Beauty Pageants Each Year
America loves their beauty pageants, but the pageant wouldn’t exist without the millions of women who participate. Over 2 million contestants join a beauty pageant of some kind every year. Prizes, school scholarships and general bragging rights are all good reasons. Another good reason is that pageants usually provide women the opportunity to showcase their many talents, global views and unique personalities to a large, even global, audience.
14. 100M US Beauty Pageants Each Year
With approximately 100 million every year, there is no sign that the much-maligned beauty pageant will be disappearing any time soon. Even children under one year old are competing in certain pageants. There are many reasons why this number is so high: Beauty pageants can be effective economic drivers for communities and businesses, and they attract sponsors, tourists and common consumers.
13. 72% of Contestants Hire a Pageant Coach
Contestants in beauty pageants are so serious that the vast majority will hire a special coach to guide them. Approximately 72% of Miss America contestants hire a personal coach to give them advice on what works and what doesn’t, such as what to wear and what to say. There are many subtleties to the competition that can make or break a potential winner, and many coaches make a living on teaching contestants what they can and cannot do.
12. 6% of Contestants Suffer From Depression
It takes a certain kind of person with a certain kind of disposition to successfully compete in any beauty pageant, including Miss America. It’s rare for contestants not to project a well-adjusted, happy and bubbly personality type when they compete. Even rarer is to see contestants who are clinically or visibly depressed. Only 6% of Miss America contestants self-identify as suffering from depression, a crippling mental illness that will probably be very little help when push comes to shove in a beauty competition.
11. California, Ohio and Oklahoma Win Most In America
Three particular American states produce more Miss America winners than any other throughout the country. It may not seem all that shocking, but it’s interesting to know that California, Ohio, and Oklahoma have the greatest number of winners — six from each state to be exact. That may not seem like very much, but it is a lot to the nineteen American states who have produced absolutely zero winners.
10. Cloris Leachman Competed in 1946
Some of the most well-known female celebrities of past and present pop culture competed in the Miss America Pageant at some time. Cloris Leachman, a one-time Miss America contestant, was one of the most successful stage, television and film actresses in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. She appeared or starred in more than 50 feature films and received an Academy Award for Best Actress, a Golden Globe Award and Primetime Emmy Award. Many people argue that winning the Pageant was a major contributing factor to her success.
9. Bette Cooper Refused Miss America Duties
Winning a beauty pageant is a dream come true for most women. However, not every winner eagerly accepts the crown. Bette Cooper won the Miss America Pageant in 1937 when she was only 17-years old. She accepted the honour, but before she was scheduled to make a theatre appearance in Atlantic City, and later in Hollywood, she completely disappeared with her boyfriend.
She wasn’t ready to face the pressure and media attention of being the winner and refused to be part of the pageant any longer. An alternative winner was never chosen.
8. 20.8, Average BMI in 1930
BMI or Body Mass Index determines a person’s weight compared to their body’s proportions. Standards and perceptions of female beauty have changed dramatically throughout the years, as evidenced by the average BMI for Miss America winners in the 1930s. Their average BMI was 20.8, quite a bit higher compared to the average BMI in 2010…
7. 16.9, Average BMI in 2010
According to a 2010 study, the average BMI for Miss America has decreased to just 16.9 since the 1930s, even though the average BMI for an adult female is between 18.5 and 24.9.
The study showing the average Miss America BMI indicated that one-quarter of 131 female beauty contestants had been diagnosed with or felt like they had an eating disorder. It’s unclear how many contestants actually have an eating disorder, but the average BMI shows contestants and winners are slimmer than the average woman.
6. Contestants Must be Unmarried
Almost like a secret club, many beauty pageants required contestants to make a solemn oath. It was acceptable during the early days, but as time went on, the Miss America board of directors decided to overturn the rule that contestants had to swear they were neither married nor ever had an abortion. However, the board revoked the oath but not the actual rule. Women must still sign a document which states they are “unmarried” and “not pregnant”.
5. Miss America Pageant Started As A Ploy
Guess who first conceived of the Miss America Beauty Pageant? Men. Rich, white men to be exact. During the 1920s, very rich businessmen originally conceived the beauty pageant with an event after Labour Day call Fall Frolic. The goal was to keep tourists on the boardwalk where they would spend more money. Eventually, they had a parade showcasing beautiful young ladies, then held an Inter-City Beauty pageant. The pageant evolved into a series before it was finally dubbed Miss America. In one sense, Miss America started as a way to “dupe” tourists to empty their pockets.
4. Duct Taping The Body
Many beauty pageant contestants will do almost anything accentuate their natural beauty. Piper Stoeckel, crowned Miss Arizona, always brings a roll of duct tape when she competes. According to her, she uses it for a lot of her “activities” for Miss America, including taping around her body. It may seem like cheating, but it works to make parts seems tighter and slimmer.
3. Using ‘Butt Glue’
What would you do to change your body in order to win a beauty pageant? Some ‘beauty’ techniques contestants use seem strange, but they do have their advantages. Miss West Virginia Kaitlin Gates uses a special tool to give her booty a boost: butt glue. She claims that using butt glue to make a behind stand out works when, for example, trying to keep everything inside a bathing suit.
2. Only One Jewish Miss America
America is one of the most multicultural countries in the world, but that hardly shows in the Miss America winners throughout history. In fact, only one Jewish woman has ever won the competition. Bess Myerson won the coveted Miss America in 1945, shortly after the end of World War II. Many people considered the win a symbolic gesture from America, after the great atrocities committed against Jews during the holocaust. However, Myerson is nothing less than gorgeous and, despite the war as a backdrop, most maintain she deserved to win.
1. Rule #7 is the Most Controversial
Believe it or not, there is a standard set of criteria for choosing the winner of a beauty pageant. However, many of them don’t sit well with the public. The most controversial rule of Miss America, besides that women must be unmarried and not pregnant, was that all women had, at one time, to be in “good health and of the white race.” In other words, black women were not allowed to compete, and certainly never allowed to win. There was not one black contestant until the 1980s when Vanessa Williams of New York was crowned the first black Miss America winner.