Here she comes, Miss America...
November 5, 2006 12:53 PM   Subscribe

How are beauty pageants judged? Are there objective standards, or is it totally subjective?

A girl I went to school (R) with just won a state pageant and will be competing soon at the national level. I was looking at pictures of the contestants online, and they were all lovely, and I wondered... how do the judges pick one? Is there some sort of checklist they're using? Or is it totally subjective (which is what I'm leaning toward since they let all sorts of stupid celebrities judge Miss America, et al)? Another girl I went to school with competed in a different state pageant, and didn't even place, and she's always struck me as smarter and more well-spoken than R (they're both very beautiful). So what's the deal? I'm hoping there's some Mefite who judges beauty pageants who can give me the inside scoop.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero to Human Relations (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I once judged a beauty contest. It was called Miss Fat Lady, and it was held in the Luzhniki sports stadium in Moscow. I was the only non-Russian judge. All the Russian judges chose the prettiest girl, who wasn't actually all that fat. I chose the one I thought most talented at singing, dancing etc. Anyway, the pretty one won. So in that show at least it was a very simple criterion and nothing to do with talent etc. But that may just be Russia (see anecdote below...)

Btw, I talked to the organiser and mentioned to her that beauty contests weren't actually quite respectable in the West and she said, No, they aren't here either. I said, You mean in Russia there is an emergent feminist consciousness? She said, I don't know what you are talking about. I said, Well, why aren't beauty contests respectable in Russia, then? She said, Because everyone knows the winner has had sex with the judges.
posted by londongeezer at 1:51 PM on November 5, 2006

For several years back in the early '70's, while I was a starving college kid, I worked a qualifying pageant for the Miss Tennessee pageant. Our winner and runner up were automatically entrants for Miss Tennessee, which was a precursor for Miss America. Now what I did in these productions was mainly stage management, lights or sound, because it paid pretty well, because I'd surely never want to do that kind of thing for any other reason than the money.

Beauty queens, en masse, are unbearable.

I never judged a contest, but I'll tell you what sells, generally. Tall girls do better than shorter ones. If there are evening gown and swim suit competitions, evening gowns count more. Judges in most pageants do have interviews with contestants, and charm school denizens tend to do better (sitting, standing, head alignment, posed standing, greetings, smiling without cracking makeup are all point winning skills). Poise (meaning power smiling through anything) always sells, and so contestants with several crowns would know how to look themselves while grinning at funerals. Being photogenic is important - meaning girls with very good facial symmetry will do better than those with asymmetric faces.

And there is, or used to be, respect for past achievement. In the pageant world, girls that have been on the contest circuits awhile, and have won a few pageants, have a better "resume" than girls who don't. Reliability in meeting commitments is worth more to pageant sponsors than "beauty," so winners of most state pageants in the Miss America system are still committed to a round of 100+ personal appearances in their crowned year, and the sponsors expect them to show up on time, cut the ribbon, say nice things about children and world peace, and wave to the crowds in a completely non-political way. So, girls who have good "pageant resumes" generally get a nod over more attractive women with lesser pageant pedigrees.

And, of course, few pageants would allow themselves to be called "beauty contests," any way. They are, of course, "scholarship programs."
posted by paulsc at 2:14 PM on November 5, 2006

Or is it totally subjective (which is what I'm leaning toward since they let all sorts of stupid celebrities judge Miss America, et al)?

At that level, they are all pageant vets with years of experience and walls of trophies. You could probably pick any one of them and have a suitable representative.
posted by smackfu at 2:32 PM on November 5, 2006

I saw this composite of Miss Georgia contestants and was surprised that some of the contestants did not look like beauty queens.
posted by Frank Grimes at 5:22 PM on November 5, 2006

Just another anecdote here, perhaps the ultimate control test: In my (small, southern) hometown there were two identical twin girls, both very good looking but raised to be very independent of each other. They grew up with far different personalities.

One was more into fashion, make-up, looking "pretty," weight loss, being a cheer leader, etc.

The other was more of a classic nerd. She liked books, science, computers, math. She got good grades and ran with the nerdy set (as did I).

Their senior year they both competed in the local pageant. The nerd won, much to the anger and disappointment of the cheerleader. It seemed that on an equal beauty scale (being identical twins after all) the one that developed her brains came out higher in the end.

Take that stereotypes!
posted by Pollomacho at 8:55 PM on November 5, 2006

Only an anecdote, but my old building super (an atheist Scottish Orthodox Jew computer programmer who founded one of the earliest free-nets in the country) wrote the scoring software used in the Miss Universe pageant, and so is always jetting off to Argentina (etc) to oversee the tech side of the contest.
posted by soviet sleepover at 9:25 PM on November 5, 2006

A long time ago I spent a few years directing a gateway pageant to the Miss Texas pageant. I tried to find my old information on it to give you exact information, but who knows where all that stuff is now hidden in my house. I do remember that talent and interview were weighted more heavily than the "beauty" aspects, and it was entirely possible to win the pageant by scoring at the top in both of these even if your "beauty" scores (swimsuit/evening wear) weren't at the top of the score chart. Several times I saw ladies who were far from being the most eye-catching win the competition, because they had great personalities, were outspoken and confident, and carried themselves well even though they didn't have perfect bodies or weren't stunning beauties (and they knew how to dress for their body type). I don't ever recall a lady who was considered a ringer for winning due to outstanding good looks winning unless she was able to pull off a top score in either interviews or talent ... much to the chagrin of some of the more "beautiful" ladies we worked with (who always thought they should have won even though they couldn't hold a five minute conversation with a judge on any topic).
posted by Orb at 5:17 AM on November 6, 2006

I cannot speak as to how accurate this book is on pageant stuff, but Twenty Pageants Later is narrated by the sister of a teenage beauty queen who gets forced into doing a pageant herself, and what "works" with the judges and what doesn't is discussed a lot. I generally ignore pageant stuff, but it was an interesting read.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:20 PM on November 6, 2006

« Older Simple single-page aggregation?   |   Verizon contract snafu Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.