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What Is a Pageant?

By Lori Kilchermann
Updated: May 23, 2024

A pageant is a contest where the winner is determined by a number of factors, often involving physical beauty, talent or skill. A pageant can be geared toward people of similar gender, marital status or interests. Pageants are held worldwide, and range from small, local events to large, international affairs. The age range for pageant contestants varies from the very young to the very old, and nearly all ages in between.

Pageants typically have a panel of judges who rate contestants on beauty, fitness and modeling ability. Some pageants feature babies and children, while others are geared toward teens or married women. In addition to looks and modeling, some pageants also often feature a talent or dance component. Scholarship pageants, while often featuring evening wear and a talent competition, also typically factor in the contestants' academic achievements and accomplishments.

In the United States, the Miss America pageant has been held annually since 1921. One winning representative from a local pageant in each state competes for the title of Miss America and is also awarded cash, prizes and scholarships. The contestants and the winner are held up as role models for American girls to emulate. Miss America contestants are judged on a variety of criteria, including talent, evening wear and an on-stage interview questions. They also compete in a swimsuit category.

Miss Universe is an international pageant that started in 1952 in California as a bathing suit competition. Contestants from across the globe compete in this annual event. A panel of judges selects the winner based on results from interview, swimsuit and evening gown competition.

Some pageants are geared toward a particular type of contestant. Criteria for pageants can include being married or single, or age, such as a baby or teen. Some of these pageants include Miss World, Mrs. America and Miss Teen USA.

Contestants in glitz pageants typically wear custom, rhinestone-embellished gowns. They may also wear hair extensions, artificial teeth and makeup, even at a young age. In natural pageants, makeup is typically not used by children younger than 13, and more emphasis is placed on the interview portion of the pageant than on appearance.

While most pageant contestants wear gowns and swimsuits during competition, some pageants don't require clothes at all. Many countries have Miss Nude pageants, such as Miss Nude Australia. The winners are then eligible to compete in a Miss Nude International competition. Miss Pregnant pageants, featuring mothers to be, are also held in many countries.

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Discussion Comments
By honeybees — On Oct 06, 2011

When my daughter was younger, she did a little bit of modeling for some local companies. She was involved in a couple fashion shows that were very interesting.

Many of the other models had been competing in pageants since they were small. I was surprised at the intense competition there seemed to be.

What was most interesting to me was the great lengths some of the parents went to. Many of them couldn't really afford to continue doing it, but didn't know how to stop. It made me wonder who wanted it more - the child or the parent?

Since I have never personally been involved with a pageant, I can't really say anything one way or another. I am sure there are many beneficial things that come from pageants. It also seems like they get a lot of criticism from people as well.

By LisaLou — On Oct 05, 2011

When I was in college, one of my roommates entered our local city pageant. This wasn't a real big town, but the winner of the pageant would go on to compete in our state pageant.

She didn't end up winning, but did really well for not having any kind of experience like this before. Most of the girls in the pageant had competed in several pageants as they were growing up, and felt very comfortable with them.

I don't know if she ever went on to compete in any other pageants after that or not. I had never been around anything like that, and it was fun to cheer her on.

She put hours of time getting ready for the pageant, including rehearsing the song she was singing. There was also quite a bit of expense just in the entry fee and the different outfits she needed.

By manykitties2 — On Oct 05, 2011

@Sara007 - There is a pageant in our city aimed at those women with disabilities. It really works to showcase the unique talents and beauty of each of the contestants.

I think that pageants can really be used to empower women to take pride in their appearance and abilities, even if they aren't what the mainstream media considers to by typically beautiful or special. For myself, I love seeing my cousin, who has to wear leg braces, be able to perform in front of a crowd with her fantastic singing voice and not be excluded from a competition. I think people need to make their own pageants for whatever they feel like supporting.

By Sara007 — On Oct 04, 2011

I think a lot of people focus too much on the negative aspects of pageants and don't look at those that are more inclusive. There is nothing wrong with wanting to look beautiful and showcasing your talent.

There is a great plus-sized pageant that runs in our city and I love that it isn't just model skinny girls being appreciated for their beauty. In fact, the pageant includes those from size 12 and up. There have been some fabulous plus-size girls that have really been a voice for the community.

Does anyone know of any other pageants that are more inclusive or that your particularly admire?

By Crispety — On Oct 03, 2011

I don't like the pageants for young girls, but I think for older girls and women (and men) it can be a really good thing. Pageants aren't all about getting the genetic goods -- though of course that's important -- I think that deportment, charm, etc., plays a big part too in who the winner is. So I would caution you all who just discount them out of hand, because I think they can be a really positive, beneficial experience to some people.

By sunshine31 — On Oct 02, 2011

@Suntan12 -The other day I was watching a talk show that dealt with beauty pageants and it was amazing the lengths that these women would go to win a crown. The women on the show were older and competing in various pageants because they got addicted to getting a crown.

Many of these pageants had high entry fees of about $500 and many of these women had to buy gowns ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 that they were only going to wear once.

The sad thing was that many of these women could not afford to spend this money but their addiction to the crowns made them do things that the average person would not do.

For example, this lady on the show did not pay her mortgage for three months so that she could compete in these pageants. If you think about this lady she was so addicted to pageants that she risked losing her home in order to compete.

She had a family with young children which is unbelievable that she would do that to her family. I think that there are other ways of getting validated that do not require such a high price.

By suntan12 — On Oct 02, 2011

I have mixed feelings about pageants. I understand that many of the girls that win these pageants get scholarships for college and also get to build awareness on a cause that is dear to them, but I find that these pageants are rewarding women for their looks which is really something that you are born with.

It does not reward the more intelligent girl, but the most attractive which seems a little shallow to me. In general I do feel that pageants are shallow and if a contestant needed money for college they could easily apply for the numerous scholarships out there.

If their purpose was to get involved with a charity, they certainly don’t need to be a part of pageant to do that. I can see giving a prize to the most talented or the smartest contestant, which is something that you can strive for, but I think that it is a little unfair to reward someone based on how attractive they are because they did nothing for it. They were just born with good genes.

This would be the equivalent to rewarding someone that was born into a wealthy family. They didn’t do anything extraordinary. They were just were lucky.

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