America’s beauty standards created a desire for others to fit into an ideal and unattainable vision of beauty: a vision that emphasized height, thinness, tan and blonde while neglecting diversity of any kind.
The pageant industry has historically pushed these unhealthy standards since its inception in the 19th century, with the birth of swimwear competitions, fitness routines, and other appearance-based methods of classifying contestants.
with the Miss USA 2019 Chesley Crist commits suicide Earlier this year, the pageant industry was highlighted and failed to address a mental health crisis within the pageant, modeling and fashion industries.
Krist is known for speaking out about diversity and issues like microaggressions on her TikTok page.
Talking about mental health issues or eating disorders isn’t uncommon in the modeling business or the pageant industry, and is often overlooked if it’s posed for brand image.
Ally McCaslin, a UA senior student majoring in addiction and recovery, has been in the quiz world since she was in the sixth grade and said it can be a brutal place when it comes to women’s mental health.
“This can be really bad for those who already have issues with mental health, and it can have a really negative impact,” McCaslin said.
McCaslin won the title of Miss South Carolina Teen in 2017 and went on to compete in the Miss America Outstanding contest. McCaslin was diagnosed with anorexia nervosa in 2018 shortly after her back-to-back beauty pageant victories.
“It was very unhealthy and the only reason I had it was to review comments made by other people about my eating habits or my appearance,” McCaslin said.
McCaslin said she was ashamed when she was first diagnosed with an eating disorder.
“I didn’t want to tell anyone what was going on,” McCaslin said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with the organization about my mental health or eating disorder, simply because I don’t think it was in their best interest.”
McCaslin has now walked away from the pageant world and said it was the best decision for her mental health.
Courtney Rager, a Murray State University graduate who has participated in fair and state contests since 2010, said she was drawn into the pageant world to meet other girls her age, but soon noticed the comparison between the girls.
“As much as you want to say you’re not comparing yourself, it’s easier said than done,” Rager said. “You may find yourself not trying to be the best version of yourself and instead trying to be like someone else.”
While many competitions no longer host swimwear categories, Rager said it took a lot of work to get into a comfortable and safe mindset before getting on stage.
“I really had to open up and be comfortable wearing this two-piece bathing suit in front of a lot of people,” Rager said. “Being mentally fit enough to be able to do this is tough, it’s something that I personally still struggle with at the moment.”
The contest industry is just one of several demanding and visible career paths that can have devastating effects on people.
Jordan Moore, a model, actor, and artist from Huntsville, Alabama, said silence about mental health in the modeling industry is making those who struggle feel less inclined to share their stories.
“A lot of times, it’s not about the fact that people don’t care about what’s going on with models. A lot of times, it’s because the public doesn’t know or hasn’t even experienced this problem to help raise awareness of it,” Moore said. “It all starts with education and deliberate and purposeful awareness.”
While recent years have seen an increase in inclusiveness, many marginalized communities are still underrepresented in these areas.
In the McKinsey & Company’s 2021 Fashion Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Surveyit is reported that black employees report greater lack of access to the fashion industry than white employees.
The study says, “There is an overall lack of awareness of the breadth of opportunity in the fashion industry. This is especially true in low-income communities, communities of color, and the pre-college pipeline.”
Companies and talent agencies tend to hire models who cater to unattainable exclusive demands, blacklisting people of color and plus-size models of opportunities while at the same time rejecting their physical appearances.
Moore said those who might consider themselves to be overweight or underweight, too short or tall often have a hard time constantly going out for model calls or reaching out to agencies.
According to the Mental Health Foundation in 2019Research has found that a higher level of body dissatisfaction is associated with poorer quality of life, psychological distress, and risk of unhealthy eating behaviors and eating disorders.
“I’ve seen a lot of people become obsessed with losing weight, covering themselves with makeup, and making body or facial modifications just to meet a certain standard, only to have been told to turn down or shut the door in their face,” Moore said. “Some have become depressed because they have completely lost themselves or become ill. It is very important to know and understand that sometimes you will be told to say no, but don’t let that determine your value.”
Despite some of the mental health struggles this industry can cause, many people believe that competitions can provide confidence and personal development for both younger and older women.
Chaney Scott McCorquodale, a sophomore at UA who majored in media, is now Miss Baldwin County and has been a pageant contestant her whole life.
“I’m really passionate about serving the community and that’s what I love most about the Miss America pageant,” McCorquodale said. “You have the opportunity to start a social impact initiative and you have a platform to share a cause you are really passionate about.”
McCorquodale said many of the girls are taking social impact initiatives that focus on mental health and attribute her self-confidence growth and personal development to the contest industry.
“It can be a little stressful but you do it because it’s fun. I’ve made my best friends through competitions and it’s an experience I would recommend to everyone,” McCorquodale said.
Moore said he believes things are changing to become more inclusive of all body types.
“Look at what Rihanna does with her fashion shows. It’s inclusive of all body types and broadens the industry and an awareness of what is generally considered beautiful.” In terms of mental health of everything, I think that also goes hand in hand with what Rihanna does, With it being very comprehensive. Expanding and challenging cognition has enhanced mental health and the subtle effects of unwillingness, choice, or even desire in the modeling industry.”
Like anything, acting is important, Moore said.
“Being able to see yourself as racial, gender, wise, etc. is not only good for the mind, but for self-esteem. It makes achieving that much more likely,” Moore said.