A beauty contest, or beauty pageant, is a competition between people, based largely, though not always entirely, on the beauty of their physical appearance. Almost invariably, competitions for men and women are separate events, and those for men are not referred to as beauty contests except derogatorily. Those for women are more common; for an example of a male beauty contest, see Mr. Universe. There are also beauty contests for children; they are controversial, in particular if the term "sexy" is used and/or the children are dressed in no more than a swimsuit.  (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/2941472.stm)
Choosing symbolic kings and queens for May Day and other festivities is an ancient custom in Europe, where beautiful young women also symbolized the nation, virtue, or other abstract ideals. The first modern pageant was staged by P. T. Barnum in 1854, but his beauty contest was closed down by public protest (he had previously held dog, baby, and bird beauty contests). He substituted daguerreotypes for judging, a practice quickly adopted by newspapers, which held photo beauty contests for many decades. The first “bathing beauty” pageant took place as part of a summer festival to promote business in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, in 1880. Contests became a regular part of summer beach life, with the most elaborate at Atlantic City, where the “Fall Frolic” attracted contestants from many cities and towns in competition for the title of Miss America. They eventually added preliminary eliminations, an evening gowns competition, musical variety shows, and panel judging by panel. Still, the contest was hardly considered respectable entertainment and was shunned by middle middle-class society. Pageants did not become respectable until World War II, when beauty queens were recruited to sell bonds and entertain troops; scholarships and talent competitions accompanied closer scrutiny of contestants’ morals and background.
The modern beauty pageant can trace its origin to the Miss America pageant, first held in Atlantic City, New Jersey in 1921, under the title "Inter-City Beauty" contest. The following year, the title was renamed as Miss America. Other contests include the yearly Miss World competition (founded by Eric Morley in 1951), Miss Universe (founded in 1952), and Miss Earth (founded in 2001 with environmental awareness as its concern) which are the three largest and most famous international beauty contests. Women from around the world participate each year in the competitions for these titles. The organisers of the major beauty contests represent their contests as being events of world importance. Many other people consider beauty contests to be titillating entertainment events of no great importance.
Beauty contests and politics
Many feminists regard beauty contests for women as degrading to females in general, as well as to the women who compete in them. A common comparison made by feminists is that beauty contests are like a cattle market for women. They have particularly objected to swimsuit rounds in competitions, where the contestants parade dressed only in swimsuits and high heeled shoes. Partly because of this, beauty contests have declined in popularity since their peak in the 1960s. These criticisms were presented in high-profile complaints against the Miss America contest in the late 1960s.
The contests are highly controversial and regularly attract demonstrators. An extreme example is the 2002 Miss World contest, which was held in Nigeria, the country of the 2001 winner, until mass riots which killed 200 and a fatwa against a female journalist caused the organizers to move it to London.
Beauty contests and "sexual purity"
Beauty contests for women often have rules regarding the sexual "purity" of the contestants: for example, they must not be married, must not become pregnant, must agree to remain celibate during their "reign", and must agree to refrain from other acts that the contest organizers regard as "moral turpitude". Breaking any of those rules disqualifies the contestant, and such disqualifications occur with some frequency: resignations have been forced by the threat to release extant nude photographs of contestants.
Beauty contests and race
Gladys Zender of Peru was the first Latina Miss Universe in 1957.
Akiko Kojima of Japan was the first Asian Miss Universe in 1959.
Janelle Commissiong of Trinidad & Tobago was the first black Miss Universe in 1977.
Mpule Kwelagobe of Botswana was the first black African Miss Universe in 1999.
Carmen Dujim Zubilaga of Venezuela was the first Latina Miss World in 1955.
Reita Faria of India was the first Asian Miss World in 1966.
Gina Swainson of Bermuda was the first black Miss World in 1979.
Agbani Darego of Nigeria was the first black African Miss World in 2001.
Stella Márquez of Columbia was the first Latina Miss International in 1960.
Gemma Cruz of the Philippines was the first Asian Miss International in 1964.
Jeymmy Vargas of Colombia was the first black Miss International in 2004.
Vanessa Williams was the first black Miss America in 1984.
Angela Pérez Baraquio was the first Asian Miss America in 2001.
Macel Leilani Wilson was the first Asian Miss USA in 1962.
Laura Martinez-Herring was the first Latina Miss USA in 1985.
Carole Gist was the first black Miss USA in 1990.
Lola Odusoga was the first black Miss Finland in 1996.
Lucbel Carolina Indriago Pinto was the first colored Miss Venezuela in 1999.
Sonia Rolland was the first black Miss France in 2000.
Malou Hansson was the first black Miss Sweden in 2002.
Erika Cruz Escalante was the first colored Miss Mexico in 2002.
Adriana Zubiate Flores was the first colored Miss Peru in 2002.
Erika Ramírez Marín was the first black Miss Honduras in 2002.
Ruth Ocumárez Apatano was the first black Miss Dominican Republic in 2002.
Vanessa Mendoza Bustos was the first black Miss Colombia in 2002.
Marva Weatherborn was the first black Miss Guatemala in 2004.
Helene Trasavik is the first biracial (Thai and Norwegian) Miss Norway in 2004-05.
Selecting a Beauty Queen
Beauty pageants are generally multi-tiered, with local competitions feeding into the larger competitions. The worldwide pageants thus require hundreds or thousands of local competitions. In the United States there is now a commercial beauty pageant industry that organizes thousands of local and regional events for all ages for profit, supporting magazines like Pageantry and Pride of Pageantry, the online epiczine.com, Pageant News Bureau, and The Crown Magazine, and a host of retailers of everything from tiaras to cosmetic surgery.
- Yahoo! Directory: Beauty Pageants (http://dir.yahoo.com/Arts/Design_Arts/Fashion_and_Beauty/Beauty_Pageants/)
- Global Beauties, a website about beauty contests (http://www.globalbeauties.com/gb/index.htm)
- Pageant Almanac: Coverage of Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA (http://www.nodice.ca/pageantalmanac/)