You may not believe it, but beauty pageants weren’t always wholesome, fun-for-all-the-family events, where women are happily objectified and Steve Harvey makes grievous errors. Once, they were altogether more bizarre.
Take the above image, for instance. No, this isn’t something out of a low-rent horror movie – it is, in fact, a 1940s “Hot Legs” contest. Clearly the event organizers thought that the ladies’ faces would be far too distracting for the judges. Because bags with eye and mouth holes aren’t distracting at all… Click on for 19 more bizarre beauty pageant moments.
19. Miss Atomic Bomb
Introducing Miss Atomic Bomb, 1950. You can tell she’s atomic because of the giant nuclear explosion balanced precariously atop her well-groomed bonnet. Combining Las Vegas’ two main selling points of the 1950s, nuclear weaponry and showgirls, was no doubt difficult – but somehow, they managed it. Armageddon never looked so good.
18. Miss Lovely Eyes
No, this isn’t another “Hot Legs” contest; this time, the masks are to allow judges to focus on the pupils of contestants in Florida’s “Miss Lovely Eyes” contest. The 1930s pageant was clearly ahead of its time: it would be another six decades before Hannibal Lecter appeared on screen.
17. Miss Correct Posture
Sometimes, it’s what’s on the inside that counts – quite literally, in the case of “Miss Correct Posture.” The girls in the photo above were victors at the 1956 contest, which used the straightness of women’s spines to spin positive publicity for the chiropractic industry.
16. National Hot Dog Week Sausage Queen
The 1950s were simpler times. Back then, National Hot Dog Week actually meant something – particularly to Geene Courtney, who was crowned Sausage Queen in 1955. She’s a real wiener – the best of the wurst.
15. Miss Radio Queen
At first glance, this seems like rejected concept art for The Amazing Spider-Man 2. But rather than a poor attempt at an Electro costume, this is actually 1939’s Miss Radio Queen. Beauty pageants were definitely a little more niche back then.
14. Miss Diaper Queen
If you’ve never seen a grown woman wearing a diaper and smiling happily about it, then you’ve clearly never encountered Miss Diaper Queen. 1947’s winner, Betty Barrett, looks overjoyed at the fact she gets to pretend she’s an oversized baby.
13. Miss Magic Marker
Now this is what you call making the most of your assets – in more ways than one. There’s no telling whether 1954’s Miss Magic Marker was aided by the strategic pair of “M”s drawn on her, but it probably didn’t harm her chances of winning.
12. Miss Psywar
Everyone had a role to play in World War II – including, it seems, these four “Miss Psywar” beauty pageant contestants. “Psywar” is presumably shorthand for “psychological warfare” here, so it’s likely this Washington-set pageant was a piece of somewhat alternative propaganda.
11. Miss Idaho Potato
In the 1930s, it must have been hard to move for beauty pageants. Perhaps there was just a lingering sense of inclusivity and solidarity in the aftermath of World War I, meaning there was something for everyone to win. How else do you explain 1935’s Miss Idaho Potato? However you say it, let’s call the whole thing off.
10. Miss Orange Queen
Not all oranges are sweet, but Miss Orange Queen certainly was. It’s somewhat ironic that her winning photo had to be shot in black and white, considering the bright, citrus colors surrounding her – but that’s the 1930s for you.
9. Lobster Waitresses, Atlantic City Beauty Pageant
Funnily enough, we don’t remember this particular scene from Boardwalk Empire. Then again, it’s not every day you see a beauty pageant where the winners are dressed as lobsters – but did you really expect anything else from Atlantic City? They’re certainly snappy dressers.
8. Donut Queen
Queen of foodstuffs seems to have been a popular beauty pageant category in the middle of the 20th century. Take Peggy Payne, for instance, who was crowned Donut Queen in 1948. Hopefully the prize involved free donuts…
7. Miss Famous Trains and Their Destinations
Back in 1930, beauty pageants transcended even the British class structure. Here, Lady Hamilton Grant poses for the “Famous Trains and Their Destinations” pageant as “The Southern Belle.” It doesn’t get much more niche than this. Oh wait, it does: the costumes for this pageant were designed by prolific British romance novelist Barbara Cartland, step-grandmother of the late Diana, Princes of Wales.
6. Best Ankle Competition
We’ve all heard the joke about Victorian ladies being too revealing by showing their ankles. By 1933, society had moved on – but apparently not very far, if this Best Ankle Competition is anything to go by.
5. Butlins Beauty Contest
This stage of a 1952 contest at a Butlins holiday camp in the U.K. judged women solely on their figures. So that faces weren’t taken into account, contestants had to wear these decidedly unnerving vacant-looking papier mâché masks. Truly, the stuff of nightmares.
4. Halloween Slick Chick Contest
Halloween and beauty pageants don’t seem like the most natural pairing, but it clearly worked out for the girls in 1947’s Slick Chick contest. The California-based pageant allowed the contestants a spark of creativity in their outfit choice.
3. Miss Cigar Queen
What’s the best way to present the contestants for Miss Cigar Queen? Why, in a giant cigar box, of course! Of course. This pageant perhaps eventually went up in smoke thanks to the associated health risks, but in 1937 it was apparently all the rage.
2. Miss Lemon
Friday the 13th might be unlucky for some, but for 1920’s Miss Lemon, it was anything but. The costume is almost a little too literal, but when life gives you lemons and all that… She looks pretty happy, not only with her victory, but the day on which she won. Take that, superstition.
1. Miss NSA
Did you know the National Security Agency had its own beauty pageant in the 1950s? No? Well then, it’s at least doing its job and keeping things secure. In classic NSA fashion, the contestants represented various numerical codes. Good luck deciphering that one.