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…
// Images from multiple sources: click to go to original source.
Elsewhere on the Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things:
- Hidden mothers in Victorian photographs
- Wedding dress made from WWII parachute
- James Mollison’s portraits of music fans
- Women laughing alone with salad
- Irina Werning’s past/future photographs
- Abandoned suitcases of insane asylum patients
- Verity Whiter’s monstrous bodies