For these girls it’s not just about being a pretty face. Cara Houchen finds out why there is more than meets the eye to beauty pageants and the women who take part.
MILLIONS of pounds have been raised over the years by Miss World, but beauty pageants are still criticised.
On Wearside we have an annual flurry of gorgeous girls all hoping to take the crown in one of two Sunderland-based beauty pageants, and in doing so they get thrown into the glamorous world that is Miss England.
The sought-after pageant places come courtesy of Miss Sunderland, which was revived three years ago, and Miss 24 Carat, a relatively new pageant which is in its second year.
Jodie Breeds, 26, who runs Miss 24 Carat alongside her own hairdressing business in Grangetown, is keen to champion beauty competitions and says the majority of the girls have brains as well as beauty.
“I first applied for the licence for Miss 24 Carat as I was looking at ways to expand my business,” said Jodie. “I have always watched Miss World and loved it.
“A few of my clients had entered Miss Sunderland and said they enjoyed it, so I thought ‘why not?’
“Because I have followed beauty pageants for years I knew it wasn’t just about standing there and looking pretty. The majority of girls are very intelligent and there is a massive push on doing charity work.”
So far she has had two girls in the Miss England final, both from Sunderland, and she is proud to be representing the city and supporting the competition.
She said: “People need to stop being so old-fashioned about it. If they gave the girls the time to explain why they are entering they would probably feel differently.
“A lot of them have been bullied in the past and they want to build their confidence, or they are interested in charity work. It’s a great way to raise money for causes close to their hearts.
“What’s not to like about a competition that empowers women and the winner gets to go to Miss World and represent their country? I think that is an amazing opportunity.”
She added: “There are a real mix of people involved from all over the country and it’s ignorant to think they just wear pretty dresses and stand on a stage and be glamorous.
“There are a lot of different rounds which put them through their paces before they take to the stage at the final.
“I would definitely encourage girls to enter just for the experience. My finalists have made some life-long friends and it’s not as it is perceived.
“It’s nothing like the film Miss Congeniality – it’s not bitchy, the girls all support each other and it’s a bit of fun that could see you travelling the world.”
Also keen to dispel the old fashioned outlook is Angie Beasley, director of Miss England.
She said: “Miss and Mr England is for those young men and women who have been blessed with beauty and want to use it to help others.
“Unlike modelling competitions, of which there are hundreds, who just judge on looks alone, we are proud to be different.
“Having been a contestant in the 1980s I have experienced the stresses and strains of being a beauty queen – travelling, meeting lots of people from all walks of life and all for the chance to compete, be on the catwalk, in the limelight for a while.
“When I had the opportunity of organising firstly Miss United Kingdom and latterly Miss and Mr England, I wanted to create a different sort of experience for the entrant from the old bathing beauty parade.”
Angie explained that the last 12 years of the competition have been very different with a fresh, exciting approach to the competitions.
She said: “Sure, it is a challenge, but its now a 21st century contest.
“Forget the preconceptions which link to the late 1960s/1970s stiletto, bathing beauty style affair. Anyone who expects that from Miss England nowadays has just not watched what we have been about for such a long time.”
There are just three rounds of Miss England which are judged on appearance and talent. The remaining rounds include the eco round, which started six years ago, even before eco-friendly was trendy. Angie explained: “I decided the entrants should have a round where they wore nothing new or expensive, they had to make it mainly from recycled materials or source from charity shops or from family and friends, a completely original outfit.
“This round has developed so well you only have to look at the effort the girls put in to it and how much they enjoy what they do.”
Then there is the fitness round. Run as a boot camp involving regiment fitness with a routine developed by British Army instructors, all the girls take part in a minimum 60 minutes of the most rigorous tests of endurance and fitness. It really is last one standing.
“Without doubt everyone has to work so hard,” said Angie. “It’s a competitive round, it really does test their stamina and determination.”
A key round is fund-raising – often laughed at as the old standby of beauty contestants wanting to raise money for charity.
Angie said: “In the last three years alone I’m proud to say Miss England has raised more than £450,000 for disadvantaged children in this country.
“I cannot accept criticism of fund-raising activities as we are continuing to aid national and international projects through Beauty with a Purpose.
“The fund-raising round is held to find the top fund-raiser in the contest.
“Everybody who enters the contest does so fully aware of what is expected from them. Nobody forces them to take part. They have a choice.
“Everyone who takes part takes away the overwhelming feeling of enjoyment of being part of something satisfying, rewarding and very special.”