Are beauty pageants sexist relics from the past, or are they modern tools for empowering women?

by TJ Walker
Actually, they are both. I’ve just returned from judging my second European beauty pageant and I can tell you that people are as fascinated as ever by beauty contests. Some people love them. Others despise them. I seem to be in the minority in that I really don’t have strong views either way.

To me, the fascinating thing about beauty pageants (beyond the pretty young women, of course) is that they do two things highly relevant to future business success:

1. Provide a forum for women who want the spotlight.
2. Provide the opportunity for young women to learn how to be better public speakers and media communicators.

Boys and young men have these opportunities every day by playing for the high school football team or basketball team and getting massive waves of local media attention. But for the most part, young women who excel in athletics at the local level receive a tiny percentage of the media coverage and attention of their male counterparts.

This does put women at a competitive disadvantage.

The desire to seek the spotlight and the ability to become a great communicator are relatively rare skills and they are highly prized in the business world. Now I know at this point some of you must be thinking “TJ, cut the cra@! You just want an excuse to look at pretty girls in skimpy bathing suits!”

I can’t deny there are some side benefits, but consider that the following women all got their careers started by entering beauty pageants:

1. ABC news anchor Diane Sawyer
2. Lifestyle maven Martha Stewart
3. Broadcasting mogul Oprah Winfrey

Winfrey was offered a job as a local radio newsreader the day after she competed in a local black teenager beauty patent in Tennessee. All 3 women make tens or hundreds of millions of dollars a year because of their communication skills that were first honed in beauty pageants.

So I don’t advise anyone to enter a beauty pageant I’d they aren’t interested. But I do advise the ambitious young person (or person of any age) to actively seek out opportunities to give presentations and communicate effectively using the media, because those are the skills that will be extraordinarily useful if they want to become a CEO or major leader one day.

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