When we think of beauty pageants, we think of doe eyes, blond ringlets, and tiny waists; the bizarre ritual of choosing the most beautiful woman in the room seems antiquated and oppressive. But it turns out that prior to Women’s Liberation, pageantry was an even more surreal and shocking part of the American experience, and the queens provide insight into their contemporary social and political climate, cataloging the strange ways in which women were expected to express Western ideals of feminine beauty and grace.
When we stumbled upon Team Jimmy Joe’s archive of vintage pageant photographs, we just had to share. For your consideration, the top 13 weirdest images:
Miss Lemon, 1920
Six months before the ratification of the 19th amendment, which granted women the right to vote, we present to you, Miss Lemon. Given a climate where women’s fashion was characterized by petticoats and waist-cinching and only the most radical women adopted liberating bloomers, this lemon getup is surprising, to say the least.
Miss Lovely Eyes, circa 1930s
This 1930s pageant asked that contestants mask their entire faces in order that the one woman with the most seductive eyes might be selected. In the context of the Great Depression, when more and more women entered the work place and the impending New Deal sought to put more women in office, this strange contest might be seen as a sort of backlash, serving to reassert that female desirability lies in the beauty of her eyes.
Miss Diaper Queen, 1947
Really?! Miss Diaper Queen? On the tails of WWII’s women workers (think Rosie the Riveter), this contest seems infantilizing and totally unpleasant. Who knew diapers and heels could be made to seem sexy?
Miss Hotdog Queen and Miss Frankfurter Queen, 1952
Patriotism captured in two American hallmarks: the ballpark hotdog and the blond bombshell. A national fantasy that includes a subtle hint of sexual innuendo… delightful.
National Catfish Queen and Miss Magic Marker Queen, 1954
Miss Correct Posture and Miss International Posture Queen, 1956 and 1957
In a decade that celebrated the mystique of the housewife, this contest reinforced the idea that women had a duty to be perfectly youthful and physically desirable, complete with flawless posture. Are the x-rays really necessary, though?
Miss Atomic Bomb, 1957
This seemingly Marilyn Monroe-inspired getup promotes 1950s nationalism and anti-communism in quite the disturbing way.
Miss Queen of Cuisine, 1964
The year after Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique, this photo seems to declare, “but woman can be happy and fulfilled by a life entirely within the home… look at this charming woman who loves to cook.”
Miss Indoor Health Queen, 1967
As early as the mid-60’s, pilates and yoga trended at women’s fitness clubs. But what is she sitting on?
Miss Beautiful Ape, 1972
Unlike Miss Lovely Eyes, this contest is all about having the perfect body. Seems a bit degrading, no?
What's your favorite bizarre vintage beauty pageant?
Images via Team Jimmy Joe