The cost of ... winning
a beauty pageant
you want to win a beauty pageant, you'd better be prepared to spend
a pretty penny.
The pursuit of a title and a tiara has grown into
a $5 billion-a-year industry, according to the Pageant News Bureau.
An estimated 3,000 pageants draw 250,000 entrants a year, and parents
spend thousands of dollars on pageants. Some want their children
to gain extra poise; others hope that their children will become
the next supermodel or a movie star.
"Competitions 25 years ago really only required
a party dress and a satin hair bow," says Eleanor VonDuyke,
a former Denver-based pageant director who was in the business for
20 years. But that has all changed.
That's where the money goes
Pageant entry fees run from $25 to more than $500. Many pageants
also have "optionals." They are the contests within the
contest for titles such as "Most Photogenic" or "Best
Costume," which tack on even more to the parents' bill.
And before you get to the pageant, there are clothes,
hair and makeup costs -- and for the serious competitors, professional
coaching. One former pageant contestant, Jennifer Makris Hill, now
coaches girls. A week of her training costs $5,000; a day goes for
$1,000. "That's why," says Hill, "I always insist
on the parents accompanying the girl on the initial interview. It's
a lot of money."
The higher the level of competition, the higher the
costs. Jamie Swenson was Miss South Dakota USA '97 and a three-time
Miss Hawaiian Tropic. "Some 'state Miss' pageant systems can
spend up to $100,000 on one girl to get ready for a national pageant,"
she says. The money goes to "wardrobe consultants, physical
fitness trainers, speech coaches, voice coaches, etiquette lessons,
salon services, talent coaches, resume writing, tanning, evening
gown, rehearsal attire, bathing suits, opening-number outfit, interview
suit, talent costume, accessories, and many, many more things."
Big spending doesn't always win the crown, however.
Swenson has known girls who have won spending as little as $100.
The most expensive dress she ever saw was at a local state pageant
for Mrs. America. It cost $8,000, but only made the Top 6 in that
pageant's "best dress" optional.
The more contests you enter, the more it costs, and
many parents turn their children into pageant troupers. One researcher
at Harvard University interviewed 41 mothers of child beauty-pageant
entrants. They entered their children in an average of five pageants
in the past year, and spent between $100 and $200 on each. They
spent a similar amount on pageant clothing, though some paid as
much as $1,000 for a gown. Those with higher incomes were more likely
to hire someone to do the child's hair, or a pageant coach to give
their child an extra advantage.
Money pressures cause a strain
Some parents even take out loans to pay for the pageant expenses,
says Charles Dunn, publisher of Pageantry Magazine. Often because
of this additional financial stress, parents get mad and scold their
children when they don't win. Lisa J. Rapport, a psychology professor
at Wayne State University in Detroit, studied 74 former young performers
in television and film. She found that mothers who served as managers
were likely to have a far less stable and positive relationship
with their children than were mothers who kept business separate.
"When parents become overly invested in the child's success,
it may be more difficult to pull back and listen," she says
Where to spend -- and not spend
-- your money
Deborah Ouellette, co-author of "Breaking
Into Commercials," is in the process of writing "What
ARE Those Pageant Judges Looking For?" In the research for
her new book, she interviews judges to see what they want.
Here are some of her tips on what to spend money on:
- Money is better spent on expert tailoring than
gimmicky embroidery or beading.
- Ballet lessons do develop grace, good posture and
an elegant walk.
- Tanning sessions usually make kids look silly.
- Each pageant has its own rules and they can be
strict. If the pamphlet says the evening-dress hem should not
be more than 1 inch above the floor, they mean it. Don't lose
points unnecessarily by failing to follow your pageant's rules.
- Pageant swimsuits are more expensive because they
hold you in and push you up, while not "riding up."
- A girl who pays attention to her vocabulary and
grammar in school can do more for herself than any "speech
- While preferences differ, many judges are frightened
by colored contacts.
- Even though judges don't like too stiff or sophisticated
a look, they do want to see the girl's hair "done."
- Good photographers can cost more than $1,000, but
often create pictures that have the professional polish that reproduces
well in program books.
- If you have the resources and want to make your
kid feel like a glamorous star, there's no harm in being the one
who sells the most program ads, tickets to the pageant, etc. The
pageant will usually give a title to the child, such as "hostess,"
along with a crown and some other prizes. As long as nobody takes
it too seriously, it's one of the advantages of having some extra
cash to spend.
Tamar Alexia Fleishman is an attorney,
writer, former pageant winner and pageant judge based in Baltimore.
-- Posted: Aug. 8, 2002