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Beginning in the early 1940's, beauty contests, or pageants, set a benchmark and standard for what was then considered beautiful, graceful and purely American. Young women striving to achieve the coveted title of Miss America were met with little discourse or negative feedback from the American public at large. Years later, however, as the women's lib movement captured the attention of the flower children of the 1960's, pageant competitions fell under attack. Today, women of the 21st century are faced with the exact same dilema: Are pageant competitions simply a platform to showcase talent and earn scholarship money, gifts and prizes? Or, do pageants represent the purest form of sexism and exploitation?

Despite the numerous benefits pro-pagenat individuals may site, the fact is that beauty competitions invite an entire host of conflicts into the hearts and minds of star-struck teens and pre-teens. First there are the inner-conflicts competitors face in attempting to attain the physical attributes of a typical beauty queen. From anorexia and bulimia to compulsive excercising, young women often sacrifice their own health in order to fit the mold of a title-holder. We are well aware that women come in various shapes and sizes - All beautiful and special in their own respect. However, pageant competitions are notorious for validating only one type of woman. As a result of attempting to fit that mold, a young woman't health and body image is easily and quickly comprimised.

In viewing pageant competitions either as a judge, parent, or fellow-competitor, isn't it peculiar that all the young women appear to take on similar personalities, characteristics and mannerisms? This is no coincidence. Weeks prior to competition, the young women are coached regarding specific tactics fo walking, talking, answering questions, even smiling! By competition night we are left with a stage full of sequin-clad cookie cut individuals who seem to have magically lost all sense of individuality. The same individuality that compelled the women to feel adequate enough to enter the competition is somehow lost over night under masks of stage makeup and Vaseline teeth.

Sounds pretty depressing, right? By now one may wonder why anyone would subject themselves to such a procedure at all. But, the fact remains, for many young women the pageant circuit serves as a kind of "finishing school" to assist in honing and polishing their womanly skills of conversation, talent and grace. In addition to gaining poise and confidence, many young ladies are awarded prizes and scholarship awards to further their education. In addition, professional contacts may be established through pageant competitions that pay large dividends later in life.

The conclusion may not be as simple as anticipated. The truth of the matter is this; the pageant competion experience is based solely on the individual competing. For strong, secure, intelligent teens, the competitions have proved beneficial. However, many young women entering pageants have yet to establish a strong sense of self, which would arm them against the cruel and judgemental world of beauty competitions.