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In 1854, showman Phineas Taylor Barnum produced the first beauty pageant. His event was unsuccessful because journalists and travelers found it distasteful and felt it portrayed an inaccurate view on women.
Starting in 1920, women were allowed to vote. This change in political standpoint impacted the culture of pageants. The New York Times started to document women’s first. This includes the first beauty pageant in 1921, named “Atlantic City’s fall event” in the Times. Later renamed the Miss America Pageant, it was invented by hotel owners to attract more tourists past the Labor day weekend and boost their profit.
The first Miss America was Margaret Gorman, she was 15 years old and weighed 108 pounds. She holds the record for the youngest and smallest Miss America. The event was popular enough that the next year the hotel owners doubled the budget and invited women from all over the country to compete in the national event. From this pageant stemmed many others which include: Miss USA, Miss Teen USA, and Miss Universe.
These pageants were owned by Trump from 1996 to 2015 and they closely resemble to Miss America.
America’s beauty pageants have been challenged by the public. Feminists lashed out at the pageant in 1968 because it was supporting gender stereotypes.
Only a year after his unpopular idea was struck down, Barnum came up with something similar. He called it the “National Baby Show”, a contest where small children would be paraded along side their mothers wearing dresses or sitting in decorated strollers. “Baby Parades” became popular, in fact Thomas Edison chose to film the Asbury Parade in 1904 making him the first executive producer of Toddlers and Tiaras.
As showing off children became more widespread, a new kind of competition formed. They were called the “Better Baby Contests” and were held usually at state fairs. They were meant to judge babies on health factors and help parents raise their kids. However, they were not just about spreading valuable health information as parents earned cash prizes if their child was chosen “healthiest”. Forty seven states had better baby contests by 1915. The judging it was inappropriate and wrong. Babies were stripped down and judged by physicians according to a meticulous point system which resembled cattle judging. These types of contests did not end until the 1950s when polio became an epidemic.
Today beauty pageants aren’t nearly as popular than they used to be yet they left an impact especially on current political figures. Starting in the 2000s they slowly lost their popularity as people realized the use of cellphones. Quoting Kimberly A. Hamlin, “why tune in once a year to rate women in their bathing suits when you can do so every day from your smartphone?” Beauty pageants have helped some politicians today. Sarah Palin said in 2008 that her experience from beauty pageants was one piece of evidence that credited her for Vice Presidency. Trump used his pageant ownership to help him kickstart his television career, pushing him into the public eye. This helped him win the Presidency. Which only goes to show that even though beauty pageants aren’t as popular as they used to be, they still impact society today.
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