There is no point in denying that when most of us think of pageants, we think of blonde mean girls, corrupt judges, bikini walks, body shaming and cattiness. Shows like Debby Ryan’s Insatiable, the story of an outcast turned pageant queen, although both hilarious and entertaining, depict pageants as cutthroat, shallow, and even violent. Even fan favourite movies like Miss Congeniality with Sandra Bullock show pageant girls as ones who are out to win at any cost; girls who are competitive and vain. These stereotypes may be entertaining, but if you look a little closer, you may see that the pageant world is filled with strong, intelligent world leaders, both men and women, and how much more there is to them than "just a pretty face.” Today we will take a look at some of the most common misconceptions and myths about pageants and some great facts about different systems.
Stereotype 1: Pageant girls are ‘dumb blondes.”
While characters in movies like Drop Dead Gorgeous may portray pageant girls as brainless and vain, many women, such as Miss America 2020, Camille Schrier (pictured below) are turning this stereotype on its head. The previous Miss Virginia was a varsity athlete and graduated with honours from Princeton. For the ever anticipated talent portion of Miss America, she performed a chemistry demonstration of the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide with potassium iodide. Her experiment won her the preliminary talent round, granting her a scholarship. Camille Schrier will spend her reign working with her platform of medication and drug safety. Another outstanding and intelligent woman in the pageant community to mention would be Mattea Henderson, Miss Earth Canada. Henderson is a proponent of freshwater conservation and has an undergraduate degree in marketing and international business, her contributions negating this belittling stereotype.
Stereotype 2: Looks and size are all that matter.
Nope! This is the biggest reason pageants get a bad rep. When you watch Miss USA or Miss Universe on TV, all you see are ballgown walks and swimsuit struts, woven in with a few onstage questions. What really happens behind the scenes is very different. Pageant girls undergo rigorous interviews, and sometimes even scholastic exams when competing in a pageant. Makeup and hair aren’t all that's on your mind, developing a platform of philanthropic ideas and actively engaging in charity events in your community is a big part of being a titleholder, and a much larger responsibility than you might think. You are judged often on this rather than size and image. Former Miss Universe Canada Siera Bearchell (pictured below) spoke up against the bodyshaming stigma around pageants as she advocated for body positivity and self confidence during her reign, gaining a spot in the top 9 at Miss Universe that year.
Stereotype 3: Pageant girls can't make a difference.
Absolute MYTH! Miss World, a pageant system that involves numerous countries in its participation, puts a great emphasis on its platform portion, with something unique to other pageants. A component of Miss World is a contestant’s “Beauty With a Purpose,” which is a philanthropic campaign to help their communities. For example, 19 year old Miss World Canada Naomi Colford made providing a breakfast program to children in her area her beauty with a purpose, and Toni-Ann Singh, the winner of Miss World 2019, made her platform advocating for the rights and opportunities of women, even working with Jamaica’s Prime Minister to fund women's centres. Winner of Miss World’s Beauty with Purpose 2019 was Anushka Shrestha, Miss World Nepal 2019 who helped struggling families in remote villages develop sources of income beyond just fundraising by teaching them trade skills such as weaving, stone making, and more. Miss World 2018 is pictured belong working with her cause.
Stereotype 4: The only reward for winning or placing at a pageant is a crown and sash.
Wrong! The winner, and often the runners up of a pageant get a year full of great appearances on television or over the radio, opportunities to engage in community events, and often amazing scholarships. Miss High School America and Miss Collegiate America offer up to 10,000 in scholarships, as does Miss Teenage Canada. International Pageants often offer very generous prizes, sometimes being up to 6 figures for winners of pageants like Miss World. Many state and provincial pageants also offer specific scholarships, reinforcing the idea that education is important for all pageant competitors, and that what is in your mind matters even more than your walk and ballgown.
Stereotype 5: You can't make friends through pageants.
There are always going to be competitive and negative people in every event circle, but the ‘ripped shoes,’ and ‘broken heels,’ cliche is far from the norm. Rather than being at each other's necks and doing whatever they can to win, tons of pageant participants across the globe have forged meaningful friendships, bonds and collaborations to last a lifetime. Miss Nigeria made world news when she erupted into excitement for her fellow competitor when Miss Jamaica won Miss World, exemplifying the often misunderstood women supporting women ideology of pageantry. Miss USA 2018 Sarah Rose Summers (now Sarah Rose Combs), who placed top 20 at Miss Universe 2018, had Caelynn Miller Keyes, runner up Miss USA, as one of her bridesmaids. The two are pictured below at the crowning and at Sarah’s wedding just a few months ago. The hugs giant hugs at the end of pageants aren’t just for show, these contestants have spent weeks together collaborating while competing, and it’s heartwarming for all to see.
Stereotype 6: There are no future careers past the crowns.
This could not be more wrong. Some people see a pretty crown and a sash as a highlight of a pageant girl's life, but you would be very surprised to know how many of your favourite public figures, actors, singers and creators were former pageant queens. Famous actress Halle Berry was runner up Miss USA, a young Oprah Winfrey once wore a crown to represent Tennessee. Adding to the list, before she wore superhero armour as Diana in the smash hit film Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot was Miss Israel 2004. Fun fact, Gal Gadot was actually the second former pageant queen to play Wonder Woman, as Linda Carter was Miss World USA 1972. Famous star of Quantico Priyanka Chopra amazes us all with her grace and talent, but did you know the talented lady was also Miss World 2000?
Stereotype 7: Pageants are only for women.
This stereotype is actually very wrong which surprises many people! There are actually many pageant systems for men, such as Mister World, Mr. Continental, Mr. Supranational, and Mister International. These pageants also place emphasis on community projects and philanthropic ideas. Alessandro Coward, (pictured below) who was crowned Mr. World Canada 2018 competed in Mr. World a few years ago, and was a proponent of awareness about autism during his reign, combating stereotypes and misconceptions about the non-neurotypical community. Given that April is autism awareness month, researching hardworking titleholders like him could be very educational! Fun fact: Alessandro Coward and Miss Earth Canada Mattea Henderson (pictured below) are a fan favourite couple in Canadian pageantry!
Stereotype 8: Pageants are only for young adults!
There are pageant systems for everyone from infants to the elderly. There are Ms and Mrs divisions for many of the major pageants, which offers titleholder opportunities to women who are married, divorced, have kids, or have aged out of the regular divisions. There is even a Ms. Senior America, which celebrates the achievements and talents of women 60 years and older. Take a look at the ever-youthful 73-year-old Carole Slade Harde during her crowning.
There you have it! Pageant contestants and titleholders work incredibly hard across the globe, and now you know a little more about what goes into the dazzling events. So next time you think of a pageant queen as simply a pretty face, think about all of the platforms, charities, and organizations they work with--and how many of your favourite entertainers once walked in their footsteps!