Beauty Pageant Origins and Culture
Contests to determine “who is the fairest of them all” have been around at least since ancient Greece and the Judgment of Paris. According to legend, a poor mortal goatherd, Alexandros (Paris), was called upon to settle a dispute among the goddesses. Who was the most beautiful: Hera (Juno), Aprhodite (Venus), or Athena (Minerva)? All three goddesses offered bribes: according to the writer Apollodorus, “Hera said that if she were preferred to all women, she would give him the kingdom over all men; and Athena promised victory in war, and Aphrodite the hand of Helen.” When Paris selected Aphrodite in exchange for getting Helen of Troy, the most beautiful mortal of the time, he inadvertently started the Trojan War.
While ancient Greeks memorialized in myth the complicated relationship between beauty and competition, there is no historical evidence that they actually held contests for women. A “contest of physique” called the euandria was held yearly at an Athenian festival — but the contest was for men. European festivals dating to the medieval era provide the most direct lineage for beauty pageants. For example, English May Day celebrations always involved the selection of queens. …
By PBS, The American Experience