Impact of Beauty Contests on Women’s Self-esteem

Television viewers today are peppered with beauty pageants that feature glamorous girls decked out in pricey gowns, full makeup and long hair. Pageants are a multi-billion dollar industry that teaches women that all you need to succeed in life is beauty. These young women in pageants often have layers of make-up, fake nails, fake hair, and fake breasts. They are paraded in bikinis in front of audiences, asked silly questions, told to perform a highly superficial talent and judged on it.

While there are many aspects to beauty (such as talent, skill, intelligence, and personality), the focus is invariably on appearance, glitz and glam. What is “pretty” and “in shape” has largely been defined by advertisers and the media — and by their questionable standards. The problem with this is body image can play a huge role in self-esteem, and this intense focus on appearance can give the impression that physical appearance is everything.

Our society is filled with messages that tell us we should look a certain way or have a certain type of body to be accepted and desirable. The ideas portrayed in advertising and media compel us to make comparisons over whether we measure up to these artificial norms.

On the contrary, appearance is only one factor among the many different qualities and traits that make us unique and beautiful. Looks are not necessarily something we have much control over. Thus, many people who may not fit the perceived ideal are susceptible to feeling inadequate, flawed, or simply not good enough.

While some pageants superficially appear to consider talent via an interview comprising some outright silly questioning, the overwhelming message is that one must first and foremost be physically appealing. Participants may go to great lengths to alter or enhance their appearance. From heavy makeup, to fake eyelashes, to hair extensions, to some pretty extreme things such as plastic surgery and unhealthy dieting practices, many pageant participants engage in behaviors focused on changing themselves to become “more perfect.”

Pageants seem to instill messages like “I should be flawless,” “I have to be thin,” and “I need to look and act a certain way to be judged favorably.” When our thought patterns include these rigid and restricting statements, we are set up to feel inadequate and ultimately terrible about ourselves. The idea we have to put so much effort into our appearance and actions to be accepted sends the message we are not good enough as we are. This feeling of not being good enough or acceptable creates the foundation of insecurity and low self-esteem.

In contrast, healthy self-esteem is about accepting yourself the way you are. It involves an ability to acknowledge you are uniquely made up of both strengths and weaknesses. It requires you to have a realistic understanding that nobody is perfect; rather, we are all diverse individuals made up of varying gifts and flaws. Healthy self-esteem includes the internalized messages “I am good” and “I am enough.”