Miss America, Miss World, Miss Universe, and Miss Teen USA are some of the more notorious of the world’s beauty pageants, but in reality there are beauty pageants for every person, every place, and every situation on the planet. It seems that every little thing, even the most mundane of things like potatoes for example, can be the focus of a beauty pageant. To name a few of the silliest, there have been titles given for Miss Sweater Queen, National Catfish Queen, Donut Queen, Miss Bobbed Hair, Miss Magic Marker, Miss National Laugh Queen, Miss Control Tower, Miss Lube Rack, Miss Blueberry Queen, Space Queen, and Miss Junior Civitan Fruitcake, whatever that means. And to really up your anticipation, I will let you know that these are not even the weirdest ones- those are yet to come!
Beauty pageants have long been a source of controversy in cultures around the world, especially when they involve children. But mainly, the reason for the upset is because beauty pageants promote women being seen for their looks and bodies, perpetuating stereotypes regarding females everywhere. Luckily, there are even some pageants out there in history and today that seek to highlight things other than just physical beauty.
Following are 17 strange and amusing examples of beauty queen photographs taken since pageants first came about in the early 1920’s.
17. Serial Killer Queens
Another pageant that hides the faces of its contestants (and makes them look just as sinister) is the Miss Lovely Eyes pageant. Little is known about this photo of beauty pageant contestants who look more like Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs than they do lovely young women. But from what we do know, this photo was taken in Florida in 1929, and the idea behind this pageant was to isolate the women’s other features so that the judges could see only their eyes, and thus choose a winner based solely on those windows to the soul. The girl with the prettiest eyes as determined by the judges would be awarded the title of Miss Lovely Eyes. The idea behind it is nice, but you would think they could come up with some masks that weren’t so utterly frightening. And for that matter, why are the contestants all wearing tight, low-cut clothing if they are supposed to only be judged on their eyes?
16. Miss Abe Lincoln?
Apparently in the 1930s, pageants requiring the contestants to cover their faces was quite commonplace, whether for the purpose of judging only their bodies, or only their eyes, which are both scenarios we talked about in the last two items on this list. So here is another equally terrifying example of those contests. This one was a pageant in Cliftonville, England in 1936. As one very astute judge once pointed out, “Now we know why women in the Middle East look so… so intriguing.” He had a valid point. Although, these photos are more creepy than intriguing, I would say. Either that, or just simply laughable: some of the Miss Lovely Eyes pageants saw women covering their faces with pieces of paper they held up, and some wore bandanas tied over their faces, and some wore ski mask-like contraptions. Sadly, it seems like the overwhelming majority of these pageants, which took place all over the world, featured scary-looking murderess masks.
15. These Guys Need a Cold Shower
Why not? Apparently, things got so hot at this pageant that the winner had to hose down her male spectators. Just kidding. Actually, this photo is of English Coal Queen Deborah Tate in 1982. At 19 years old, Deborah won the title of Northumberland Coal Queen and is pictured here at the opening of a new pit bath complex at Ellington Colliery in January of 1983. The Coal Queen was a pageant for the wives and sisters of the miners in 1960’s Britain. The coal miners back then very well may have had to work from dawn until dusk in the cold, damp subterranean conditions, but these three miners look like they are doing just fine, thanks in part to Miss Tate joining them in the showers. Deborah Tate and the other ladies had it a little better than the men, especially if they won Coal Queen like she did. From 1960-1983, those that did win were awarded with holidays, clothes, and money. Coal Queen was a nationwide event, and the queens were mascots for the mining industry.
14. X-Rays and Trophies
I suppose having good posture is somewhat important if you aim to be a beauty queen. At least, it must be more important than, say, hot dogs or diapers. In this sense, the Miss Perfect Posture contest is slightly more relevant than some of the others on this list. Good posture is, after all, associated with confidence, power, and physical beauty. However, this contest is still quite ridiculous. In this photo, the three winners pose with their trophies (and their x-rays). Marianne Baba, Lois Conway, and Ruth Swensen won Miss Perfect Posture titles in May of 1956. That year, the contest was held at a national chiropractors convention in Chicago. The contestants were required to stand on a pair of scales, one foot on each, which would register her weight. If both scales showed the same weight, it meant she was standing correctly and thus had good posture. Photos are also available showing the chiropractors meticulously scrutinizing each woman’s spine, and measuring it.
13. Gun-Lovin’ Ladies
These beauty queens vying for some title or another wore NRA (National Rifle Association) tattoos on their backs during a pageant in the 1930’s. This vintage photo shows the young women wearing backless bathing suits, jutting their hips out with one leg forward in what some people called a political pose. Taken in Miami just a decade after the start of pageants in America (the first-ever Miss America pageant was held in 1921), this photo is symbolic of an era when beauty queens had womanly curves and did not need to show off a ridiculous amount of skin to be considered beautiful or win a pageant. Some commenters of this photo have said they can even see cellulite, but I think most would agree that they all look gorgeous.
12. Miss Psychological Warfare
Psychological warfare is defined as “actions intended to reduce an opponent’s morale”. This sounds like the perfect thing to be made into a beauty pageant, does it not? This pageant took place in Washington state in the 1940’s, and posing beautifully with loudspeakers and wearing bathing suits, these lovely ladies were four of the contestants vying for the crown. They can also be seen in another photograph posing by a cartoon poster that depicts a World war II soldier who is surrounded by a microphone, pamphlets, a typewriter, and a loudspeaker, all things that were used in propaganda efforts and for psychological warfare. Considering all of the above, this pageant can likely be dated to the first part of that decade, before the war ended in 1945.
11. The Hottest Monkey
What you are seeing here are contestants competing in the Miss Beautiful Ape pageant in 1972. It is quite a strange idea for a pageant, given that pageants generally assess beauty, and this seems to be exactly the opposite. But there was a point to the madness, as it turns out: the timing of this pageant in Century City, California coincided with the release of the film Planet of the Apes, although how exactly someone came up with the idea of a monkey-themed beauty pageant escapes me. The young women participating look like models showing off fashion and bikinis, and the big, hairy, monkey heads are such a weird juxtaposition to their bodies that are, by all rights, quite attractive. The title of Miss Beautiful Ape went to Contestant number two, Dominique Green, who also won a role in 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes.
10. KKK Pageant From Hell
This highly creepy photo looks like it comes straight out of Miss Ku Klux Klan USA, the pageant from hell. In fact, it is not a stretch of the imagination to think a horror movie could be inspired by this lineup of ladies in white hoods. But in fact, these women were contestants in a beach beauty pageant, as is evidenced by the background and the fact that they are wearing bikinis. Not many other details are known about this photo, but the hoods over their faces likely means that this could have been a body-only pageant, and the judges were not to be swayed by any pretty facial features. These women were to be judged strictly on the attractiveness of their bodies below the neck. There are several other photos out there of similar competitions- women covering their heads but not much else. And take it from me, they are all just as macabre.
9. Diapers and Heels
The winner of the Diaper Queen pageant in 1947 was Betty Barrett, seen on a pedestal in the middle of the trio of diapered women. At the convention for the Diaper Service Institute of America in Chicago, this concept of a beauty contest actually happened. Talk about a sexy pageant! All three contestants are dressed in a seriously strange ensemble (unless, you know, you have a baby fetish) of a white cloth pinned diaper and bralette top to match. The heels, I suppose, are supposed to sex it up? This is one of the weirder of the beauty contests I have come across, and that probably has to do with the fact that diapers bring upon the image of bodily functions- the grossest ones. Mixing that with beauty doesn’t really work in any way, shape, or form, no matter how lovely the lady who is wearing it.
8. Wiener Queens
What little girl doesn’t dream of growing up to become Sausage Queen? However, just like bodily functions and beauty do not go together, nor do hot dogs and beauty (albeit hot dogs are slightly better than diapers). Pictured above are various hot dog queens and their wieners. Yummy. On the left is Sausage Queen Geene Courtney, who won a pageant sponsored by Zion Meat Company during National Hot Dog Week in 1955. In the middle, Lorraine Cole is dripping not with diamonds, but wieners at the Hotel Wellington. She was crowned Frankfurter Queen in 1956 by Hebrew National. Another Hebrew National Frankfurter Queen just as lovely was the 1952 winner, whose name is unknown. However, there are other photos of her out there that are less than glamorous, and feature her sitting on a pile of hot dogs and looking like she is about to devour one. The photos have been made into merchandise like flasks and posters.
7. Britain’s Most Glamorous Fatty
This is one of my favorites! This photo is of the contestants of London’s Miss Fat and Beautiful contest in 1960. The winner earned the title of Britain’s Most Glamorous Fatty, which may seem offensive now, but was not taken so back then. It seems like it was all in good spirits, and obviously the women entering the pageant knew what they were getting themselves into, so I say all the power to them! This pageant was held by a London store seeking to find the perfect woman, who was described as, “a comfortable woman with the sort of statistics those old Dutch painters would have loved.” The pageant was detailed in a news piece called “Plump and Lovely” and there is even a video of it on YouTube. The winner had been Miss Scotland 11 years prior.
6. Granny Beauty Pageant
Along those lines of an un-beautiful beauty contest was the Old Folks Beauty Contest. This photo is from that contest in 1943. Mrs. E. Bailer, 78, and Mrs. Sophie Wagner, 78, are caught looking disapprovingly at 18-year-old Dorothy Mattershead, a streamline 1937 model. All three wear bathing suits, but the grandma beauties do not seem impressed by the young model’s choice of swimwear, most likely due to how little of it there was (they’d have a heart attack seeing how little bikinis have gotten nowadays!). Dorothy pays them no mind, however. The photograph had been captioned when it was published, “A bevy of grandmas strutted and preened yesterday alongside the pool in Steeplechase Park, Coney Island, for the annual old folks beauty contest.” Today, eight decades later, old folks beauty pageants are hardly a thing of the past, as many nursing homes hold them. In Brazil in 2013, there was even the world’s first Miss Geriatric pageant!
5. Human Trafficking Pageant?
Upon first glance, this photo might look a bit more sinister than it really is. The women look like they have been kidnapped and are being auctioned off in some sort of sick human trafficking operation or something, standing on tables wrapped in what appear to be numbered garbage bags before a room full of men scrutinizing them. But the reality is that this was the Miss Beautiful Legs pageant in Paris in 1936, and the ladies were simply making sure that they were judged only on their legs. That year, the winner was one Mademoiselle Billie Borge, a lovely young woman with short blonde curls and of course, killer legs. There have always been leg contests all over the world, but most do not look as creepy as this one. More often, the contest or pageant will utilize a screen behind which the contestants will stand, and only their legs will be visible. Or sometimes the women would just wear masks, which as we know, has the potential to look quite malevolent, as well.
4. Miss Atomic Bomb
This woman looks far too happy to be Miss Atomic Bomb, which yes, was a real thing. In 1957, Lee Merlin won the Miss Atomic Bomb pageant. It had been created to celebrate the continuous nuclear testing at Yucca Flat, Nevada, 65 miles from Las Vegas. Appropriately, Miss Merlin was, in fact, a Vegas showgirl, as were all of the Miss Atomic Bombs. The last and most famous Miss Atomic Bomb, Lee Merlin’s outfit was a cotton bikini fashioned to look like the mushroom cloud resulting from the drop of the atomic bomb that wiped out hundreds of thousands of civilians in Japan in 1945 and resulted in the Allied victory in World War II. All of this is much too serious of business to mix with a frivolous beauty pageant, and really, it is quite disrespectful. But in that day and age, above-ground bomb testing was a major public attraction in the Vegas area, so much so that hotels capitalized on it and hosted bomb-watching parties. So it wasn’t as much about the actual bomb dropping as it was about the testing, in which no one was killed.
3. Pre-Twilight Vampires
Wow, this chick looks thrilled, doesn’t she? Perhaps she is just really in character. She has just been crowned Miss American Vampire- and by a dude that looks ready to start gnawing on her neck, I might add (seriously, he is creepy!). This woman looks about as alive as a vampire herself, so maybe that is why she won. With the pale white skin, long black hair, and that godawful expression, it is no wonder she came out on top. Her name is Christine Domaniecki of Belleville, New Jersey, and she was the regional winner of the Miss American Vampire Pageant in Palisades Park, New Jersey in 1970. This contest was a promotional tool for House of Dark Shadows, a 1970 horror film about a vampire released from prison. In the movie, Jonathan Frid played the lead role, and that is who is crowning Christine in the above photo.
2. Two Beauty Queens, a Munchkin, and King Neptune
Well, this is an oddball group if I ever saw one. In 1923, the third-ever Miss America pageant was held in Atlantic City, New Jersey. On a list of strange beauty pageant photos, you probably did not expect to see one from one of the world’s most famous (and still running) pageants, but nevertheless, I give you this. The winner, Mary Katherine Campbell (second from left), is not all that strange-looking all by herself. But to her left, the director of the pageant, Armand Nichol, looks like he just walked out of The Wizard of Oz. To her right, King Neptune (because, obviously) looks about to kill someone, and on the far right is Margaret Gorman of Washington, D.C., who was the first person ever crowned Miss America in 1921, at the age of 16. Mary Katherine Campbell won in 1923 for the second year in a row. These four mismatched faces are all over the place- goofy, creepy, evil, bubbly, naïve, you name it. Weird.
1. Oxygen-Starved Mermaids
In 1949, an altogether new kind of beauty contest took place in Weeki Wachee Springs, Florida in an amusement park that boasted a huge underwater theater. The pageant was a test of one’s underwater abilities. In the photo on the left, the women walk under water in front of judges. These contestants had to be able to hold their breath for a long time, and move well in the water. In 2015, footage was discovered of the contest and other historical events that had not been seen in half a century. There was one million minutes of archive footage and it was uploaded to YouTube. The part with the mermaid pageant was narrated with a voice-over, and it is explained by the voice that it was a beauty contest with a “new angle”. The women were given pipes to occasionally breathe in some oxygen to prevent drowning mid-pose, which does not sound so safe. The winner was a woman named Mary Dwight.