The beauty pageant scene is serious business in many parts of the world. And judging from the performance of countries that take these pageants the most seriously, effort seems to translate into results. Yes, in general, nations that have the most sophisticated preparations for their prospective candidates — including beauty pageant schools, grueling fitness regimens, and even radical cosmetic surgery — win the most often. But what’s the big deal with beauty pageants in the first place?
Apparently, there’s a lot at stake. Aside from elevating a country’s national pride, international beauty queens can become instant celebrities with assured bright futures ahead of them, most especially if the international crown brought home is among the most prestigious ones. Currently, Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss International, and Miss Earth are the pageants most widely accepted to be among “The Big Four” — the pinnacles of international beauty pageant achievement.
Here are the eleven countries, which have so far managed to collect the highest number of titles from the most prestigious and most prominent international beauty pageants:
T10. Colombia (5 Titles)
Title Winners: Luz Marina Zuluaga (1958 Ms. Universe), Stella Márquez (1960 Ms. International), Paulina Gálvez (1999 Ms. International), Jeymmy Vargas (2004 Ms. International), Paulina Vega (2014 Ms. Universe)
Colombia has won five Big Four titles, including the most recent edition of the Miss Universe pageant. The victory by Paulina Vega in 2014 was considered an important one in Colombia, as it was the first in a decade, and the country is known to take its beauty pageants very seriously. In fact, local Colombian pageants have been described as being cut-throat. The approach seems to be effective, however, as apart from the five crowns Colombia has won, it has also amassed twenty-one runner-up finishes.
T10. Germany (5 Titles)
Title Winners: Petra Schürmann (Ms. World 1956), Marlene Schmidt (Ms. Universe 1961), Ingrid Finger (Ms. International 1965), Gabriella Brum (Ms. World 1980), Iris Klein (Ms. International 1989)
Germany claimed its first major international title during the 1956 Miss World pageant, and 24 years later, Germany won Miss World again. However, Gabriella Brum gave up the title just 17 hours after winning it. The media reported that Brum’s boyfriend, Hollywood cameraman Benno Bellenbaum, had spoken about being unhappy with Brum’s victory since it meant being separated from his girlfriend. Furthermore, Bellenbaum revealed to reporters that he had taken nude photographs of Brum.
T8. Brazil (6 Titles)
Title Winners: Iêda Maria Vargas (Ms. Universe 1963), Martha Vasconcellos (Ms. Universe 1968), Maria da Glória Carvalho (Ms. International 1968), Lúcia Petterle (Ms. World 1971), Priscilla Meirelles (Ms. Earth 2004), Larissa Ramos (Ms. Earth 2009)
Brazil may have won a Big Four title only six times, but within its first five wins, the country was the first nation to complete the Big Four set. The “grand slam” of international beauty pageants was completed in 2004, when Priscilla Meirelles was named “Miss Earth,” the three other titles having previously been won by Brazilian contestants in past years. In fact, the set could have been completed earlier, but Miss Brazil only managed 1st Runner-up finishes in the 2000 and 2003 editions of Miss Earth.
T8. Sweden (6 Titles)
Title Winners: Kicki Håkansson (Ms. World 1951), May-Louise Flodin (Ms. World 1952), Hillevi Rombin (Ms. Universe 1955), Margareta Arvidsson (Ms. Universe 1966), Mary Stävin (Ms. World 1977), Yvonne Ryding (Ms. Universe 1984)
Sweden had the best possible start in Big Four pageants by winning the first one ever held. On July 29, 1951, a 24-year-old Kicki Håkansson took home the first ever Miss World crown. In fact, Sweden won the title again the following year with May-Louise Flodin completing a rare back-to-back victory. Since then, Sweden has won another Miss World crown (1977) and two Miss Universe titles (1955, 1984). However, it has been thirty years since Sweden’s last Big Four win.
7. Australia (7 Titles)
Title Winners: Tania Verstak (Ms. International 1962), Penelope Plummer (Ms. World 1968), Belinda Green (Ms. World 1972), Kerry Anne Wells (Ms. Universe 1972), Jenny Annette Derek (Ms. International 1981), Kirsten Davidson (Ms. Australia 1992), Jennifer Hawkins (Ms. Universe 2004)
Australia has won three of the Big Four titles, the Miss Earth pageant being the only one the country has yet to win. Nevertheless, Australia has achieved the Universe-World double, the achievement coming in 1972 when Kerry Anne Wells and Belinda Green won the Miss Universe and Miss World crowns, respectively. Hopefully, the country can soon end its third decade-long drought in terms of winning Big Four beauty pageants.
T4. United Kingdom / England (8 Titles)
Title Winners: Rosemarie Frankland (Ms. World 1961), Ann Sydney (Ms. World 1964), Lesley Langley (Ms. World 1965), Valerie Susan Holmes (Ms. International 1969), Linda Hooks (Ms. International 1972), Helen Morgan (Ms. World 1974), Sarah-Jane Hutt (Ms. World 1983), Helen Fairbrother (Ms. International 1986)
The United Kingdom is one of only three countries to have won the Miss World title at least five times, the country having done so in 1961, 1964, 1965, 1974, and 1986. However, the mention of the accomplishment often raises eyebrows as all of those victories took place when the pageant was held in London, leading some to suspect that the U.K. could have benefited from its “home court” advantage. Nevertheless, the U.K. has won three other Big Four titles, all of them awarded in Japan.
T4. India (8 Titles)
Title Winners: Reita Faria (Ms. World 1966), Sushmita Sen (Ms. Universe 1994), Aishwarya Rai (Ms. World 1994), Diana Hayden (Ms. World 1997), Yukta Mookhey (Ms. World 1999), Priyanka Chopra (Ms. World 2000), Lara Dutta (Ms. Universe 2000), Nicole Faria (Ms. Earth 2010)
India has won three of the Big Four international pageants, lacking only a Miss International title. The country came ever so close to winning a Miss International crown four times — 1960, 1997, 2003, and 2013 — with the country’s bet being named 1st Runner-up in those years. However, the country has made beauty pageant history by being the first nation to twice hold more than one of the Big Four titles simultaneously. India first achieved the feat in 1994, when Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai won the Miss Universe and Miss World titles, respectively. The country then duplicated the achievement in 2000, when Lara Dutta and Priyanka Chopra were named Miss Universe and Miss World, respectively.
T4. Puerto Rico (8 Titles)
Title Winners: Marisol Malaret (Ms. Universe 1970), Wilnelia Merced (Ms. World 1975), Deborah Carthy-Deu (Ms. Universe 1985), Laurie Tamara Simpson (Ms. International 1987), Dayanara Torres (Ms. Universe 1993), Denise Quiñones (Ms. Universe 2001), Zuleyka Rivera (Ms. Universe 2006), Valerie Hernandez (Ms. International 2014)
Puerto Rico has taken home three of the Big Four crowns at least once, lacking only a Miss Earth title. It is also among the most successful countries in the Miss Universe pageant with five titles, the most recent one coming in 2006 when Zuleyka Rivera won the pageant held in the United States. The following year, the Miss Puerto Rico pageant was featured in the international news after allegations that a candidate’s belongings were pepper sprayed, thus causing the contestant great discomfort during the competition. In the end, the victim, Ingrid Marie Rivera, still won the crown and represented Puerto Rico in the 2008 Miss Universe pageant.
3. Philippines (10 Titles)
Title Winners: Gemma Teresa Cruz (Ms. International 1964), Gloria Diaz (Ms. Universe 1969), Aurora Pijuan (Ms. International 1970), Margarita Moran (Ms. Universe 1973), Mimilanie Marquez (Ms. International 1979), Precious Lara Quigaman (Ms. International 2005), Karla Henry (Ms. Earth 2008), Bea Rose Santiago (Ms. International 2013), Megan Young (Ms. World 2013), Jamie Herrell (Ms. Earth 2014)
The Philippines is one of only three countries to have won each of the Big Four titles at least once, the set having been completed in 2013 when Megan Young became the nation’s first Miss World. In fact, that year was the country’s most successful in terms of international beauty pageant performance; the Philippines won both the 2013 Ms. World and 2013 Ms. International titles, while it placed 3rd Runner-up in the 2013 Ms. Universe pageant and within the top 8 of the 2013 Ms. Earth pageant.
2. United States of America (14 Titles)
Title Winners: Miriam Stevenson (Ms. Universe 1954), Carol Morris (Ms. Universe 1956), Linda Bement (Ms. Universe 1960), Sylvia Hitchcock (Ms. Universe 1967), Marjorie Wallace (Ms. World 1973), Karen Brucene Smith (Ms. International 1974), Katherine Patricia Ruth (Ms. International 1978), Shawn Weatherly (Ms. Universe 1980), Christie Ellen Claridge (Ms. International 1982), Gina Tolleson (Ms. World 1990), Chelsi Smith (Ms. Universe 1995), Brook Lee (Ms. Universe 1997), Alexandria Mills (Ms. World 2010), Olivia Culpo (Ms. Universe 2012)
The United States may only be second in terms of the number of Big Four titles won, but it places first with its number of runners-up: 55. U.S.A. also holds the lead in the number of Miss Universe winners a country has produced with 8, the first being Miriam Stevenson in 1954 and the last, Olivia Culpo in 2012. And perhaps it’s only fitting that the United States does so well in international beauty pageants. After all, it’s recognized as the birthplace of such competitions. In 1926, the International Pageant of Pulchritude, featuring candidates from various countries, was held in Galveston, Texas, and the event is said to have served as the model for the modern international pageant as we know it today.
1. Venezuela (21 Titles)
Title Winners: Susana Dujim (Ms. World 1955), Maritza Sayalero (Ms. Universe 1979), Irene Sáez (Ms. Universe 1981), Pilín León (Ms. World 1981), Astrid Carolina Herrera (Ms. World 1984), Nina Sicilia Hernandez (Ms. International 1985), Bárbara Palacios Teyde (Ms. Universe 1986), Ninibeth Leal (Ms. World 1991), Jacqueline Aguilera (Ms. World 1995), Alicia Machado (Ms. Universe 1996), Consuelo Adler (Ms. International 1997), Vivian Urdaneta (Ms. International 2000), Goizeder Azúa (Ms. International 2003), Alexandra Braun (Ms. Earth 2005), Daniela di Giacomo (Ms. International 2006), Dayana Mendoza (Ms. Universe 2008), Stefanía Fernández (Ms. Universe 2009), Elizabeth Mosquera (Ms. International 2010), Ivian Sarcos (Ms. World 2011), Gabriela Isler (Ms. Universe 2013), Alyz Henrich (Ms. Earth 2013)
There is wide agreement in beauty pageant circles that Venezuela is “queen” when it comes to performance in Big Four pageants. And rightfully so. With its 21 titles, the country is way ahead of all others and is, in fact, the only nation to have won all of the Big Four titles at least twice. This dominant performance is undoubtedly fueled by Venezuelans’ unparalleled love for beauty pageants. Two thirds of the country’s population have been reported to tune in to the final of the Ms. Venezuela beauty pageant, where the country’s representatives to the Big Four are chosen. In fact, when the 2005 edition of the Ms. Venezuela broadcast was momentarily interrupted by a televised speech from the country’s president, thousands of enraged viewers in Caracas banged on pots and shot guns into the air in protest.
However, those in charge of the Venezuelan beauty pageant scene have faced heavy criticism from the international press. In 2014, for example, the BBC aired Extreme Beauty Queens: Secrets of South America, wherein the country’s shocking practices for preparing its beauty pageant contestants were revealed. These preparations included extensive cosmetic surgery and even sewing a plastic mesh onto the tongue to control eating behavior.