beauty pageants that just isn’t pretty.
More on Shine: Miss America Contestant Reveals Tattoos, Breaks Taboo
The latest evidence of that came on Friday, just two days before the Miss America finals in Atlantic City, N.J., courtesy of a New York Post Page Six gossip item. It alleged that, in July, a fellow pageant contestant recorded Miss New York, Nina Davuluri, saying Miss America Mallory Hagan was “fat as f***.”
More on Yahoo: Ask Miss America Contestants About Syria
The story notes pageant organizers have said the claim has “no validity” and that Davuluri has both apologized and passed the buck through a Facebook message (“I want to apologize for the awful statements made by people in my room . . . I’m sorry if someone said something that was inappropriate”). But the situation, whether true or not, is a sad reminder of the havoc that pageants can wreak—or at least support.
“The two major points of stress for pageant competitors are cellulite, or jiggling flesh, and also making some major [speaking] flub that goes viral,” Hilary Levey Friedman, a sociologist, pageant expert and sometimes-judge, told Yahoo Shine. But having those fears—and having them fueled by the cattiness of rivals—is not surprising, she said.
“It will happen whenever you are in any competitive environment—whether it’s Miss America, ice-skating or even chess,” noted Levey, who is writing a book about pageants (and whose mom Pamela Eldred was crowned Miss America in 1970). “Because looks are a part of it in a beauty pageant, that makes us more uncomfortable. But anything in which appearance is part of the competitive equation, it will become something that is judged and talked about.”
Nastiness at the level alleged by Page Six is commonplace in the pageant world, she added, but it’s typically kept anonymous, thanks to the protection of message boards like those at VoyForums, frequented by members of the pageant community.
A small sampling of swipes posted about the Miss America preliminaries just this week, in fact, included: “Maine has a shot but I hated her gown,” “CA’s top was too small, she was coming out the sides,” “Her gown did nothing for her,” “DC’s body so strange, she is soooo skinny up top and so bottom heavy” and “She is too skinny!”
The public history of psychic pageant damage has been pretty extensively documented. Competitors including Miss Utah (in Miss USA), Miss Venezuela (in Miss Universe) and Miss South Carolina (Miss Teen USA) were publicly mocked across the Internet for less-than-perfect answers to onstage questions.
At least two veteran beauty queens—former Miss USA Shanna Moakler and former Miss Norway Monica Hansen—have spoken out about how pageants play into some women’s tendency toward cattiness.
“For the most part, pageants are very positive, but once in a while, there are definitely bad apples who ruin the bunch,” Moakler once said. “Girls clash in national pageants like Miss USA because there are so many different cultures and personalities in the mix. Jersey girls may not get along with Southern girls. That’s just the way it goes.” When she competed in 1995, she added, “Someone stole my shoes and earrings and it was not cool. Luckily, another girl lent me her extra accessories and I still managed to win!”
In August, a former Miss California competitor, Shanay Thompson, dished about pageants’ negative influences on body image in “Confessions of a Former Model and Pageant Queen” for the Huffington Post.
“I saw many pageant girls starving themselves, admitting they hadn't eaten in X amount of days,” she wrote. “Some wouldn't drink water, as that would bloat them up. The pageant provided lunches for us that weekend and a few other girls and I felt out of place being the only ones eating while the others didn't even touch their food.
"That night I didn't place, but it did change me. I got obsessed with exercising and counting calories and dropped down to 118-122 pounds. I remember my sister showing a picture of what I looked like and I was disgusted. I looked sick. I knew as a public figure, I didn't want young girls to follow this pattern and this wasn't how I wanted to live my life.” Thompson eventually sought help and got healthy. She is now studying to be a doctor.
Also recently, on a HuffPost Live segment, a handful of former Miss America and Miss USA winners obsessed over the bodies of Miss USA finalists, declaring them "much too thin."
Former Miss America Kirsten Haglund has been outspoken about her own battle with anorexia since winning the crown in 2008. Her illness actually began before pageantry, when she was an adolescent in the ballet world, where, “If you ate like a normal person, you were looked down upon,” she told Salon. Ironically, though, Haglund credits the Miss America pageant with helping her with her recovery, as it gave her space to focus on her positive platform of eating disorder awareness.
That said, pageants can be tricky business when it comes to self esteem, bullying and harsh judging—and not only for adults. According to a 2012 study, child beauty pageants can negatively affect adult body image, and possibly lead to eating disorders.
"We need to talk to adults and to kids," noted the University of Arizona study author Martina Cartwright at the time, "about other ways to garner self-esteem than through appearance."
beauty pageants that just isn’t pretty.