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Old Hollywood Glamour Files : Bizarre Beauty Pageants of the Past

Recently, the Miss Teen USA pageant has been in the news for removing the swimsuit segment of its competition. This makes sense – seeing as the pageant is put on in order to award scholarship money to prospective students, and is for girls aged 14-19!

The swimsuit round of beauty pageants has been an intrinsic element of each event since their inception almost one hundred years ago in 1921, when the first Miss America pageant was held and advertised as a ‘bathers revue.’


The Miss America contest has always been upheld as a celebration of female empowerment and sisterhood, which seems baffling today when women are more likely to feel empowered by education and progressive values than what they look like in a garter belt. During the 1950’s however, pageants and the “Miss…” title were used to advertise products and concepts from National Hot Dog Week to the atomic bomb.

Atomic bomb, you might exclaim! I promise I’m not making this up. Nevada was keen to emphasise its modernity and advances in the nuclear arena during the 1950’s, and so Miss Atomic Bomb was born – combining two of the state’s calling cards – nuclear bombs and showgirls - because what doesn’t say “take a trip to Vegas” like atomic warfare and scantily clad females?!


There were countless seemingly bizarre efforts to cash in on the ‘sex sells’ bonanza; such as the 1954 Miss Magic Marker pageant, 1968’s celebration of librarians – Miss Archive, 1935’s illustrious Miss Idaho Potato, the West Side Fur Company’s 1960 Mink Queen contest and Miss National Catfish Queen of 1954.


All of these pageants had the same basic attributes in common – young female hopefuls, some thinly disguised product placement, and a heavy focus on strutting the stage in little more than underwear.

Zion Meat Company’s infamous Sausage Queen pageant in 1955 was held to celebrate National Hot Dog Week. Geene Courtney won the contest, and had the honour of being strung with raw sausages arranged artfully around her girdle. In a similar vein was the 1952 Frankfurter Queen – sponsored by the Hebrew National!


Occasionally pageants aimed to further an idea or promote a concept, as opposed to simply marketing sausages or fur pelts. Miss Psywar was one such pageant. Psywar, or psychological warfare, was not a new concept. The wartime efforts of the 1940’s needed not only covert psy-ops in order to beleaguer enemies, but also some good old fashioned morale boosting for the folks at home. So, the Miss Psywar pageant was born. Not much is known about it, besides the fact that it took place in Washington state in the 1940’s, and the little that can be gleaned from the surviving photographs – showing young women in in bullet bra style swimsuits, standing around horn loudspeakers!


And it wasn’t just the shady world of psychological warfare that had its own beauty contest – the NSA even had a pageant which ran in the 1950’s and early 1960’s – perhaps the National Security Agency is not all about brains, as evidenced in this photo below, showing smiling women in corseted dresses! Again, very little is known about this pageant – besides the fact that contestants represented numbers as opposed to states – and that it was held annually. It seems the NSA is not keen to share many more details of its dark history!


And for our final foray into the world of downright strange beauty pageants of the past, I’ll leave you with this photograph showing a young girl posing in knickers with a bag over her head – which at first glance looks rather questionable, but is actually a shot from the 1930’s Miss Lovely Eyes pageant!


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