Beauty PageantsVanessa Moore (not her real name) was the second runner-up in her beauty pageant, and should have received some scholarship money for it. And as the leading fundraiser, she was supposed to receive a portion of the money she pulled in from sponsors. But instead of the roughly $5,000 she was entitled to, she walked away empty-handed.

"I never received a dime," said Moore. "Every time I followed up with the director as to why I hadn't received the money yet, there was always an excuse: Her grandmother was sick and she didn't have time to get to it; they were still doing the accounting; then her grandmother died and she was in mourning. Finally, she just stopped responding to me. I've considered taking the issue to court but figured that would be too much of a hassle."

Moore's experience isn't unusual. In 2010, the Better Business Bureau received nearly 10,000 inquiries from consumers about beauty pageant promotions, up from 5,941 in 2009 and 6,159 in 2008.

"Beauty pageants can carry big price tags," said Stephen A. Cox, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureau in a prepared statement. "Before finding yourself scammed out of thousands of dollars, it's important to check out the pageant operator with BBB first."

Is It Worth It?

The ads sound great, with promises of cash, scholarships, prizes, as well as modeling opportunities and more. But issues arise when promoters don't deliver what they promise. While there are legitimate pageants, there are also those whose only purpose is to fatten the pockets of promoters, says the BBB.

Win or lose, participating in a pageant has its rewards. All this begs the question, what does it cost to be a beauty queen? Apparently, it ain't cheap. In fact, says Gerdeen Dyer, founder of Pageant News Bureau, people are spending billions to participate in the thousands of pageants in the U.S. each year. "Women spend thousands and some spend tens of thousands. They think they can sell those gowns later," he says. While some pageants don't have entry fees, there's no escaping all the investment that's required to compete.

One former pageant participant shares her story. "It is a financial endeavor -- the travel, the coaches, the wardrobe, the make up, hair, and in some cases fees are staggering," says Hillary Beulah, who competed in 10 pageants over three years in the Miss USA and Miss America pageant systems. "If you want to be a contender, the money you spend crafting the perfect image is quite substantial. My parents spent about $20,000. Is it worth it? I made some good friends, and definitely have some epic stories, but my parents are still sad they never saw me hold a major title."

Despite all the money Beulah spent, she says she walked away from the pageant system feeling proud of herself. "I learned more about myself from getting on stage and speaking about my beliefs in an evening gown. I went into it with zero expectations and left feeling like I could check one thing off my bucket list," says Beulah, now a fashion consultant.

Quite frankly, says Deanna Oerman, owner of Nyx Models, "I worry about these pageants tremendously. Too many girls get the wrong idea about them. I think a healthy way to look at such pageants is as a mom/daughter hobby or an escape, especially since some of them can be so expensive. Second, they do a girl no good in advancing a modeling or acting career. Third, let's be honest, most of them are just revenue opportunities for the producers. All it takes to be 'accepted' is the willingness to write a check."

"The legitimacy (and true career-advancement potential) of a pageant is inversely proportional to the money they ask. There are many pageants that charge an entry fee in the thousands and yet have never produced a major star. It's the typical scam: Promise a young girl you can make her famous, suck a bunch of money out of their parents, and leave them with nothing but a few pretty pictures," says Oerman.

Profiting from Participation

Beauty pageants, though, have probably put a lot of women through college, and Dyer points out that many women who ventured into fields like politics and broadcast journalism first did some time on the pageant circuit. "It is a great confidence builder. They learn how to handle themselves under pressure, in interviews and in public speaking."

Casey Kaczmarek was a big winner, taking home three titles: Miss Teen Long Beach, Miss Earth USA and Ms. America International. She has been involved with pageants for 15 years, directing, judging and coaching. "As a result of my pageant titles, I have served as a spokeswoman for numerous organizations, most notably the local chapter of the American Red Cross when I was 16. I emceed numerous local events for charities, worked with the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Mayor. As Miss Teen Long Beach, I made over 200 appearances during the year I served in that role. It was a great opportunity for me to grow as a young woman and give back to the city I was born and raised in," she says.

Mary Lou Brezo has participated in pageants, as have her children. "It's a positive and powerful experience. Pageants are costly, but it's the same with any hobby or sport. There is value in participating in what fulfills you that goes beyond any dollar amount. You learn to stretch beyond your comfort zone," says Brezo. "I can't wait until I'm 59½ to qualify for the Miss Senior America Pageant. You don't know how powerful you can be when you take a simple tiara and turn into an inspiration for the world to savor."

Proceed with Caution

From the time Ami Ahuja was 10, she wanted to be in a beauty pageant. Her dream came true in March, when she participated in the Mrs. Wisconsin pageant. She spent more than $2,500, but she says it was worth every penny. She came home a runner up, best photogenic (judges' choice( and best photogenic (people's choice). "I became famous in the Indian community and my circle in Milwaukee. I was featured in many newspapers and wherever I was mentioned, my business, was also mentioned." For Ahuja, the money spent was an investment, and the pageant was a game-changing experience. "I am writing a book, creating a fitness awareness website, and launching a Web TV show in September, all because I was in the pageant."

On the flip side, there are plenty of pageants that aren't worth the money. For one thing, says Dyer, there's not much in the way of regulation of judges. People sleeping with judges, sloppy judging, and contest rigging aren't just the stuff of movies, says Dyer.

There are no official regulating agencies for pageants, says Betty Hemby, the former director of the Miss District of Columbia Scholarship Organization, an official Miss America Preliminary. "The Better Business Bureau is a start, but there are limitations. For example, a promoter that produces a pageant in Michigan and absconds with the money after being exposed and he decides to pack up shop and head to Delaware under a different name. How would the potential contestant or parent in Delaware know this? There would be no BBB reports in Delaware showing any complaints," says Hemby who is putting the finishing touches on her book, Honey if the Check Clears, You're in the Pageant.

How can you discern whether a pageant is legit or not? "Ask for references of people who participated, especially some that didn't win. You might get some sour grapes, but also some truth," says Dyer. You also want to know how long they've been around, the longer the better. A sure bad sign, she says: "If they don't seem open to answering your questions, run."

The Better Business Bureau offers a few pointers:

Before entering into a pageant, parents and others who want to get involved should consider the following questions:

Who are the directors? Usually pageants are operated by for-profit organizations that solicit participants by mail or print advertising, or by broadcast media, to compete for recognition and prizes from the promoter.

Can the location (place of business) of the pageant company be verified? Where and when will the actual pageant be held? What accommodations are provided for contestants? Will there be adequate supervision?

Do all of the details add up? Are there judges and what are their qualifications? Do they have any affiliation with the company? Are refunds possible if a contestant decides to withdraw from the pageant? How are the winners chosen? What criteria are used for selection? What are the obligations of the winning contestant? What do former contestants and winners have to say about the pageant? Ask the company for references. Finally, what benefit will be derived from participating or winning?

Do the winnings sound too good to be true? If so, they probably are. Be sure to read any contract carefully and thoroughly in advance of entering a pageant to understand the rights and responsibilities of the winner or other contestants.
Also, surf the Net. "Google is a pageant girl's best friend," says Jason Shaw, who has been in the pageant world for nearly 20 years as a consultant, director and judge. " All contestants should conduct careful due diligence on a pageant before they decide to enter and gain information on the history of the program, the visibility of the program and its titleholders and any pending litigation against the pageant and/or its directors."

The Internet is rife with pageant message boards and other resources where contestants can get useful feedback on various pageant systems. Every pageant should offer a contract for each contestant which lays out the expectations for the competition. "Read the fine print!" says Shaw. "Contestants should pay particular attention to indemnity clauses and any other proposed waivers of liability. Additionally, the expectations for the newly crowned titleholder should be something that is set forth and agreed upon before the competition."

Stick with legit pageants, and it could be worth all the effort. "Everybody wants to be a princess for a day or for a year," says Lisa Ruffin, who participated in the Miss U.S. Teen and Miss Black Teenage pageants, and nearly 20 years ago founded the Little Miss African American scholarship pageant. "If I hadn't gotten $25,000 in scholarship money from pageants, I wouldn't have been able to go to Juilliard."

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July 13 2011 at 5:04 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Whatever happened to major department stores or formal wear boutiques sponsoring the girls and lending them the gowns to wear. Not only was the sponsorship a tax write-off for the shop, but it was worth countless thousands in sales of gowns, bathing suits, and sportswear the girls wore during the pageant.

July 13 2011 at 12:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I prefer to use my debit card over my credit cards because it keeps me from overspending, the only thing is - I like getting rewards on my credit card.


July 13 2011 at 12:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It would cost a heck of a lot less money if these broads would just get naked and be done with it. That's all anybody wants to see anyway.

July 12 2011 at 8:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Hi everyone! I got so tired of clicking on the link "Latest Financial News", and looking at stories that have been there over a month. Their top story has been there since January! And the stories that are actually current, you cant comment on them! I moved over to Yahoo. There pages are much, much better. You actually get current news, and you can even comment! What a novel idea!

July 12 2011 at 6:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


July 12 2011 at 4:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

These pagents are like churches, tell you what you want to hear above the board, while taking all your Money below the board. It's all a bunch of crap. Many contestants end up emotionally damaged for life. Drug and alcohol addicts! What is the purpose of being crowned, when deep down, you know that you paid$$$ for it! And in 20 years, you'll be hiding the pictures because you aren't going to want anyone to know, that you went from: 5'10" @ 115 lbs. To: 5'4" @ 230 lbs wearing lose fitting clothing to hide the rolls. This is a common occurrence in about 85% of the contestants. And if you do Make it, Men will do anything to drop a load into you! And, most of you will not have the experience to know any better. But, you will be loaded! And again, this will show in about 20 years. Good Luck! Dbone

July 11 2011 at 11:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Lmrphoto's comment

Just does one lose six inches from one's height? As we age, we get a little shorter, but it's fractions of inches, not six full inches. Not even stilettos will give you that much of a height advantage, so the answer is not "they take off their shoes."

July 13 2011 at 12:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Louise Madlin

That was an excellent release on Beauty Pageants, I agree fully that several of the large pageants are just fund raisers for their own self. I have been involved in the Fashion and Beauty Pageant industry since 1963 and have personally experience several of the thing mentioned in the release. There are a few of the pageants which are great, I have produced City, County, State and National beauty pageants and will tell you right up front that is we do not receive the number of girls necessary to stage a live pageant, ( 10 delegates)the pageant is cancelled and every cent we received for sponsorship fee are refunded 100 percent.
In 2010 the Miss California USA had a field of over 200 girls we participated believeing that we would receive publicty for our area, was told at the last minute and of course it was to late to withdraw that there would not be any television, they would have keepted the funds anyway.
In 2008 I receive a special award from President Bush and in 20 09 I receive another award from Governor of California for my community involment and the work which I perform in my city working with the youth of our area, It would be my pleasure to furnish all of credits if there is anyone who wishes to see them.
In the meantime the best way to check out a pageant is from the girls who have participated in that pageant. One last thing I will not profuce a pageant and award a title unless it is a registered beauty title, as there are various beauty pageants who will appoint you a title if you pay their required sponsors fee, they will even awards a registered titles with no respect to the official registered title holder.
I really wish that there was a National Law to cover all beauty pageants, we really need a set of rules for all pageant directors to follow.
Thank you so very much for releasing the article, maybe it will open the eyes of the young girls.
If I have your permission I will put the entire article on my pageant website.

July 11 2011 at 7:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply