A beauty pageant or beauty contest is a competition that mainly focuses on the physical beauty of its contestants, although such contests often incorporate personality, talent, and answers to judges' questions as judged criteria. The phrase almost invariably refers only to contests for women; similar events for men are called by other names and are more likely to be body building contests.
Winners of beauty contests are often called beauty queens. Children's pageants mainly focus on beauty, gowns, sportswear modeling, talent, and personal interviews. Adult and teen pageants focus on makeup, hair and gowns, swimsuit modeling, casual modeling and personal interviews. There may be titles such as Tiny Miss, Little Miss, Teen Miss or just "Miss". Awards such as tiaras, banners or scholarships may be given out afterwards.
Choosing symbolic kings and queens for May Day and other festivities is an ancient custom in Europe in which beautiful young women symbolized their nations' virtues and other abstract ideas. At the Eglinton Tournament of 1839 - a re-enactment of a medieval joust and revel held in Scotland in which many distinguished guests took part and which gained much public attention at the time - a Queen of Beauty was chosen, Georgiana Sheridan, the wife of Edward Seymour, 12th Duke of Somerset and sister of noted author Caroline Norton.
The first modern American pageant was staged by P. T. Barnum in 1854, but his beauty contest was closed down by public protest. He previously held dog, baby, and bird beauty contests. He substituted daguerreotypes for judging, a practice quickly adopted by newspapers. Newspapers held photo beauty contests for many decades: In 1880, the first “Bathing Beauty Pageant" took place as part of a summer festival to promote business in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.
Contests became a regular part of summer beach life, with the most elaborate contests taking place in Atlantic City, New Jersey (“Fall Frolic”) and Galveston, Texas ("Splash Day"), where the events attracted women from many cities and towns. Universal produced a newsreel of the Texas Centennial Celebration beauty pageant in 1935, which shows models attempting to fit into life-sized cutouts of the Centennial Committee's concept of the "perfect figure."