The Harsh World of Beauty Pageants


It was recently announced that Miss Iceland 2015, Arna Ýr Jónsdóttir, had decided to quit the pageant world, after being told she was too fat and needed to lose weight to continue competing. As is often seen throughout beauty pageants, there is an obsession with weight and appearance, and a division between what is considered ‘plus size’ or not. In today’s world, these views are outdated, and something needs to change. 

Credits: arnayr via Instagram
Credit: arnayr via Instagram

The owner of the Miss Grand International contest sent Jónsdóttir an email advising her that she should ‘stop eating breakfast, eat just salad for lunch and drink water every evening until the contest’. Jónsdóttir was taken aback by the advice and decided that they didn’t deserve to have her compete in the contest if they didn’t like the way she looked, so she decided not to enter. Jónsdóttir took part in gymnastics for 10 years, and earned a place on the Icelandic national team as a pole vaulter when she was just 15 years old. Jónsdóttir recognised that her body was broader than some other girls, but said it was clearly due to her athletic background, of which she was very proud. This story demonstrates quite clearly the outdated perceptions of beauty surrounding those in the pageant business.

This is only one example of the international body-shaming that occurs throughout this kind of pageant world. Alicia Machado, the winner of Miss Universe in 1996 when she was just 19, details some of the insulting language Donald Trump, the former owner of the pageant, used towards her. After her pageant win, Machado gained roughly 60 pounds, and Machado claims that Trump referred to her as ‘Miss Piggy’; he also said she should be called ‘Miss Housekeeping’ because of her Latina background. She claimed that he would often tell her she looked ugly or fat, and said after she left the pageant she suffered from bulimia and anorexia for years.

Credits: via Pinterest
Credit: via Pinterest

In the period following Machado’s weight gain, she documents some horrific instances of bullying. After she started to gain weight, she claims that she asked the president of Miss Universe for some time to recuperate and rest, so she was quickly sent to New York. The next day, she says that was taken to a gym and exposed to 90 media outlets, with Donald Trump also watching. While on camera, Trump took personal jabs at her, saying things like ‘so this is somebody that likes to eat’. Machado claims that it was because of his passive-aggressive personal insults, that she stopped eating and could only ever see herself as fat. The impact that words like these can have on women is severely underestimated, and the fact that this woman was no longer considered beautiful enough to compete after gaining weight is simply shocking.

Even more recently, the Miss Italy runner-up, Paola Torrente, caused a sensation throughout the beauty-pageant world, when as a size 14 woman she came second in the competition. However, not everyone was pleased and there were reports that she was the target of some malicious comments and ridiculing, with some suggesting she would be better off in a ‘plus size Miss Italy’ competition. However, Torrente brushed off those comments, deciding that she would rather stay positive about her win.

In 2013, YouGov published a finding showing that the average women’s UK dress size was a size 16. Combine this finding with the criticism Paola Torrente faced for being ‘plus size’, and it becomes clear that one of the main problems pageants need to start addressing is what is considered ‘plus size’ and whether that is already becoming an outdated term. These women are only a few among the many that have been criticised for their size. Inclusiveness is threading its way through the fashion industry in the last few years, and the pageant world should be no different.

A movement called #droptheplus is applauding fashion industries for making clothing available in all sizes, but claims that the term ‘plus size’ is outdated and needs to be dropped. There shouldn’t have to be a separation between women because of their clothing size. Torrente herself applauds pageants for becoming more inclusive, and not just sticking to the stereotype of the ‘skinny girl’, but has anything really changed from Alicia Machado being ridiculed in 1996 to Arna Ýr Jónsdóttir being told she was too fat to compete as recently as this year? Clearly, while the inclusiveness and acceptance of all body types is becoming more prevalent, there are still a lot of steps to be taken to ensure all body types and images are considered beautiful, and the pageant world would be the perfect platform to display the inclusiveness we need.


English and History student.

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