1950s Beauty Pageant Judging Guidelines


Gwen of Sociological Images compares a chart used by judges in the 1950s to pick Miss Universe with the 4H market steer charts she used to to see when she was in 4H.

First, some people like to suggest that men are programmed by evolution to find a particular body shape attractive.  Clearly, if judging women’s bodies requires this much instruction, either (1) nature has left us incompetent or (2) cultural norms defining beauty overwhelm any biological predisposition to be attracted to specific body types.

Second, the chart reveals the level of scrutiny women faced in 1959 (and I’d argue it’s not so different today).   It made me think of my years in 4-H. I was a farm kid and I showed steers for several years and also took part in livestock and meat judging competitions. I was good at it, just so you know. Anyway, what the beauty pageant image brought to mind was the handouts we’d look at to learn how to judge livestock.

1950s Beauty Pageant Judging Guidelines


  1. Personally, I think number one and number two are goddesses. The rest of them are hideous, however.

  2. Clearly if she knows 4-H Judging then she realizes the importance of a standard.

    If you don’t have a standard to judge something; giving you a common baseline to compare to, how do you know what score to give something? I mean c’mon. Don’t get mad at the standard, thats necessary for the activity. Get mad at the pageant and the idea that they need that standard to begin with.

  3. I would suggest that the 4H guide to vegetable judging criteria could be applied to other body parts, and perhaps for adult movie “components”

    Market Quality – The exhibit should have good overall product appearance (be appealing to the
    consumer), be of proper maturity (not to young or old), be at the proper stage of ripeness (ready to eat), be fresh (showing no shrink, wilt, or desiccation), be of proper firmness, and have good form (proper size, shape, color). Points are deducted if exhibits don’t meet quality criteria.

    Condition – Exhibit should be free from defects or damage such as bruising, cracks, tears, splits, deformities (catfacing, hollow heart, curling, stubbing, off colors, etc.), insect feeding, and diseases (spots, rots, etc) which affect the usability and appearance of the vegetable. Points are deducted because of defects or damage present.

    Presentation – All vegetables in the exhibit should be uniform in size, shape and color for highest scoring. Single item exhibits (such as cabbage, melons) should be have a uniform shape (not lopsided) and color throughout.

    I know personally I prefer melons that do not have cracks, tears or other deformities, plus of proper maturity.

  4. …what the beauty pageant image brought to mind was the handouts we’d look at to learn how to judge livestock.

    How fitting, considering a beauty pageant is a dog show featuring humans (missing the obstacle course).

    And BTW, most men I know would be totally distracted by #3 and couldn’t care less about #6’s “leg spaces” (whut?) so I wonder who really came up with this chart.

  5. Every single competition in which winners are selected by judges (including things like figure skating) is essentially done this way. The participants coming closest to ideal (however ideal is defined) win.

    How else would you expect it to work?

  6. Point (1) is a red herring. The phrase “if judging women’s bodies requires this much instruction” erroneously assumes that a panel of judges scrutinizing women’s bodies for the purposes of a pageant is equivalent to an individual heterosexual male feeling physical attraction for a female.

  7. Comparing this to the 4-H judging standards is just so perfect. I, for one, have no issue with beauty pageants – the contestants know what they’re getting into and that they will be judged on ridiculous criteria. Don’t hate. HOWEVER – I’m a farm kid too, who grew up showing livestock in 4-H, and I always thought the similarities between my halter classes and Miss America pageants were striking.

  8. I don’t hate the pageants. I hate the fact that they exist. However, I don’t think that they should be forced out. I wish they would simply fall out of fashion. It is disgusting. It has nothing to do with sex, it’s just a way to damage women. The pageant itself is just a manifestation of a social problem.

  9. Makes one understand how some people develop “body dysmorphia,” if I am using the term correctly: agonizing over their every feature, anorexia, bullemia, constant dieting.

    When I was a teen (which is a long time ago), I remember a young woman (in her 20s, maybe) who was very, very, very thin. Anorexic thin, before anyone ever heard the term “anorexia.” And she thought she was fat. This is a very sad thing: you innocently tell the person that they should eat more, and they tell you that they are fat.

    Adult women who weight maybe 85 pounds are NOT fat.

  10. @12, I agree – 3 is much more my cuppa than 7. But even so, beauty comes in so many shapes, it’s ridiculous to use a chart like this.

  11. Jeez, louise–whatever happened to, “Wow, you’re cute”? Now there’s a damn CHART I gotta follow?!

  12. So wait, in order to win a 1950’s beauty pageant you had to be a man in drag? Nothing’s more flattering in a one-piece than broad shoulders, a straight waist, and noassatall (yes, all one word–it makes the ass-less seem more dignified).

    I think me and my wide hips will happily stick with being a #3, thanks.

  13. What is crazy is that #7 boobs are bit bigger than the rest. Me thinks that there is a missing #6.5 somewhere…..

  14. @21: which would have been my point, had I tried to make it in any clear way.

    The concept of an ideal of beauty is about as ridiculous as parading a few specimens around to prove something about it. Obviously, there are as many physical preferences as there are people who have them. One piece of evidence of this is obese-looking blow up sex dolls; doesn’t do it for me, but apparently it knocks someone’s socks off. More power to him.

    That said, I’m pretty excited that my wife looks like #3 and less like #7.

  15. Heh, #7 is the one I like the least. Sure, there need to be standards in order to have a contest, but in that case “beauty” pageant is a misnomer.

    All those so-called flaws? Wear them well and they’ll be dead sexy.

    Sign me up for the #3 fanclub. #6 is looking mighty fine, too.

  16. Dear everyone specifying which of the (nearly identical) charted body types they’d prefer,

    Way to miss the point.

    No love,
    Lauren O

  17. Lauren O: Perhaps. But I wonder, given a line-up of people of your desired gender, could you pick out the ones you are more attracted to? Is that a bad thing?

    Another way to look at it is that those of us specifying which we’d prefer reinforces the absurdity of such a chart. Specifically, where the author of this chart sees broad hips as a “figure flaw”, many commenters seem to see them as a major asset (so to speak).

  18. The one I like best is #5. Physically, she looks a lot like the others, but at least her choosing a different pose shows she’s not quite as conformist.

    I wonder if #7 even wants to be in this contest. She didn’t have her hair done or bring any props, not even the bisection line. I’m surprised the judges didn’t pick someone more dedicated.

  19. I was imprinted at an early age on Frazetta women so I like women even more hippy than #3.

  20. I second the suggestion for “The Sexual Politics of Meat” by Carol Adams.

    Sexism and speciesism are very much related, and it can easily be argued that if someone is against one they should be against the other.

  21. Put a pretty face and a great personality on #3, and I’ll be happy to take her home with me. #7’s built rather like a MAN, actually!

  22. Lauren, I think you’re missing their point, that everyone likes something different, visually. And unless you’re blind, I don’t believe you don’t judge attractiveness by your own personal meat-sheet standards. Just because it exists only in your head doesn’t make it any less arbitrarily judgmental. Welcome to natural selection.

    And if you are blind, I hope you don’t judge by shape, because that’s the same damn thing.

  23. I’d do #s 1-6, but 7 is obviously a robot. (I did 4H, too, and it is an appropriate analogy, if bulls actually cared).

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