Bizarre beauty contests

Winners of the Miss Perfect Posture contest at chiropractors convention in Chicago, May 1956, pose with their trophies and x-rays

Marianne Baba, Lois Conway and Ruth Swensen, winners of the Miss Perfect Posture contest at a national chiropractors convention in Chicago, May 1956. (Image via NPR; click on image for more great photographs of this contest).

Contestants of the Miss Lovely Eyes competition (Florida, 1930s) pose with creepy face blocking masks.

Miss Lovely Eyes Contest, Florida, 1930s. (Image via Buzzfeed).

Lobster king Harry Hackney with his Lobster Waitresses, who won the prize in Atlantic City's famous beauty pageant parade, date unknown.

Lobster king Harry Hackney with his Lobster Waitresses, who won the prize in Atlantic City’s famous beauty pageant parade, date unknown. (Image via X-ray delta one on Flickr).

To me, beauty contests are pretty strange things to begin with: something about women being paraded on stage to have their bodies evaluated like cattle at an agricultural fair rubs up against every feminist impulse in me. That is not to say they are not interesting spectacles. Whether we like it or not, images of all humans are constantly measured against often unstated cultural and personal standards of beauty; these types of pageants seem to be a real-life attempt to articulate and apply contemporary definitions of beauty.

As our ideas of beauty – and, indeed, our ideas about how to display the beautiful body- change through time, these pageants always seem a little more strange in retrospect. But I think these vintage photographs of unusual beauty contests take this strangeness to a whole new level. It seems to me that the source of weirdness in these images fall under four main categories:

  • weird competition sponsors (like the Lobster, Diaper and Sausage queens)
  • unusual devices to measure standards of beauty (like X-rays or the Marilyn Monroe cut-outs)
  • blatant challenges to the conventions of traditional beauty contests (like the Most Beautiful Ape and Miss Fat and Beautiful pageants)
  • bizarre methods of ensuring body part competitions would not be unfairly swayed by facial beauty (like the eye-isolating masks of the Miss Lovely Eyes contest, or the disturbing bags over the head in body-only beauty pageants)

But I think the most disturbing element of these photographs was the way I found myself evaluating my own body in relation to each of the bizarre beauty contests, wondering how I would have done in them! (I would be dead last in the posture competition, but I think being from Nova Scotia might give me a leg up for Lobster Queen). More below…

Geene Courtney, Sausage Queen. Sponsored by the Zion Meat Company during National Hot Dog Week, 1955.

Geene Courtney, Sausage Queen. Sponsored by the Zion Meat Company during National Hot Dog Week, 1955. (Image via Paul Malon on Flickr).

Contestants of beautiful legs contest wear masks and striped bathing suits, 1949.

Beautiful legs contest, 1949. (Image: Alfred Eisenstaedt of Life Magazine, via Vintage Everyday; click for more pictures of this beauty contest).

Contestant of the Miss Fat and Beautiful Contest, London, 1960.

The Miss Fat and Beautiful Contest, London, ca 1960. The winner is dubbed “Britain’s Most Glamorous Fatty.” (Image via Jezebel; click for a fascinating video from this beauty contest).

Runners up pose with winning Diaper Queen, wearing a sexy adult diaper.

Betty Barrett crowned diaper queen at a convention for the Diaper Service Institute of America, Chicago, 1947. (Image via Vintage Gal).

Contestants pose on beach with creepy bags placed over their heads.

Beach beauty pageant contestants with scary bags on their heads. Date unknown. (Image via Wip Wap Web).

Contestants measure their bodies against cutouts of the star in a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like contest, 1958.

Contestants are measured to see if their figures match the famous star at a Marilyn Monroe look-a-like contest at a resort in Hastings, UK, 15 July 1958. (Image via Bridgeman Art).

Gary Owens with the gorilla mask wearing contestants of the Most Beautiful Ape contest, 1972.

Gary Owens on stage with contestants in the Most Beautiful Ape contest, Century City, California, 1972. Dominique Green, contestant No. 2, won title of Most Beautiful Ape and a role in “Battle for the Planet of the Apes.” (Image: Photographed by Larry Bessel, UCLA Digital Collections. Via Retronaut.)

Body judging guidelines for the Miss Universe pageant, 1959. (Image: The Daily Mirror, via The Society Pages; click on image for more details).

Body judging guidelines for the Miss Universe pageant, 1959. (Image: The Daily Mirror, via The Society Pages; click on image for more details).

// Images from multiple sources: click to go to original source.

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