Date of Award

Spring 5-6-2022

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Human Development


Sandra L. Caron

Second Committee Member

Julie DellaMattera

Third Committee Member

Sid Mitchell


The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore pageant contestants’ thoughts on feminism. A total of 12 of the 51 state titleholders who had competed in the 2020 Miss USA Competition were interviewed. They were recruited through letters sent to individual State Pageant Directors of Miss USA. The objective of the study was to gain an understanding of how women who compete in beauty pageants view their participation in light of feminism. The focus of the interviews centered on their motivations for participating, pageantry support for feminist ideals, their own self-identification as a feminist, and any criticism they may have received to suggest pageants do not align with feminist ideals. Titleholders were also invited to add any additional thoughts or suggestions on pageants and feminism. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted. Each interview consisted of a series of open-ended questions. The interviews were transcribed and coding categories were developed. Sixteen coding categories emerged from the analysis of the interview transcripts and were organized under the topics of focus for the study. Specifically, the 16 coding categories were organized according to the four research questions for this study which included: motivation for participating, pageantry support for feminist ideals, self-identification as a feminist, and experience with anti-feminist critique. Three overarching themes emerged from a further analysis of the 16 coding categories and include Pageants are Empowering, Swimsuit is Complicated, and Pageantry Has Evolved. This study revealed that these women had many reasons for entering pageants, the least of which was related to beauty. Most women felt pageantry supported feminist ideals, and personally identified themselves as a feminist, yet had experience being told by outsiders that their participation was anti-feminist and they were not feminists. Much of the outside criticism centered on the swimsuit competition, however most of the titleholders found swimsuit to be empowering. They also felt pageants had evolved and did not see “beauty pageant” as an appropriate descriptor for their participation. Implications for the study findings are discussed, including ways in which pageants might better support feminist ideals.