Beauty pageants are regarded as platforms that celebrate female beauty holistically, and rightfully so, the winners are indeed some of the world’s most beautiful women in their own right. However, beneath the veneer of sparkling gowns and thoughtful essays within one-minute windows lies a layer of reality entrenched in the rigours of compliance and the fine line that divides sisterhood from the trappings of competition, typically concealed from the global audience.

As the content manager and social media manager of Face of Beauty International’s 2019 iteration who had no prior experience with pageants, I initially thought that the girls were just there to look and sound beautiful, however, an event of that nature has much more depth than expected.

As it turned out, a crown does not only signify that its wearer carries the most appealing visage or the most pleasing personality – she has also survived a rigorous process in the most graceful manner possible.

Every moment is part of the competition

Pageant viewers would think that the only parts of the competition that count are those seen on television or social media, say, the coronation night, swimsuit competition, evening gown competition, and the like. The fact of the matter is the contest begins the moment a participant arrives at the venue regardless if a camera is present to document her arrival or not.

Any action that violates the rules set by the pageant is addressed accordingly. And should that behaviour hurt any of the participants, staff, or the image of the organisation, a contestant could get disqualified or lose the chance of winning any award at the very least.

Some of the prohibited acts include smoking, drinking, sabotaging other participants, showing attitude to the organisers, and not following instructions.

From the rest periods to the moments beyond the day’s agenda, every legally observable action is placed within the watchful eye of the organisers. Like the members of the British Royal Family or actresses in films, they should show grace at all times.

The punishing schedule

The big question is what happens to the girls in between the major events. Smaller beauty pageants might afford them more time for rest and leisure, but in regard to Face of Beauty, much of the time spent was with sponsors and partners. Given the large number of sponsors that a pageant can have, it’s possible for non-publicised days to be a lot busier than those with official pageant events, which are gruelling, to say the least.

A day in the life of a beauty queen – if she’s competing – is waking up at around 4:30 am or earlier, which affords her enough time for putting on make-up and arranging her outfits for the day. By sunrise, the delegates are to grab a quick breakfast, then the rest of the day will be spent hopping from one venue to another, meeting and greeting people at the same showing seemingly boundless energy. And sometimes an important function like rehearsals or a charity-related activity is inserted late at night. For the biggest organisations, like Miss Universe and Miss World, the daily schedules are even more punishing considering their long list of sponsorship deals [VIDEO].

It might seem easy at first, but beauty pageants typically last for more than a week, so the daily rigours will eventually get to not just the girls but also everyone else involved with the organisation.

Sisters or competitors?

An often downplayed element in beauty pageants is how close these girls can get. In the case of the 2019 batch of Face of Beauty International, the ladies were total sweethearts to one another. They lifted each other up even in moments that can potentially cost them a place at the quarterfinals. Sure, there was friction, however, for the most part, they functioned as one loving unit whenever it counted. And some of them continue to correspond with each other to this day with the same fervor.

No wonder Miss Universe 2015 winner Pia Wurtzbach is known to spend some of her birthdays with her pageant batchmates years apart from the competition.

However, I was told by a pageant insider that there have been cases of sabotage in other pageants, in which candidates ripped the gowns of other participants or hid their footwear.

Thus the competition can get rough depending on the mindsets of the participants. I was fortunate enough to not have experienced such behaviour as a member of the organising party.

Furthermore, last year’s winner and the 2018 queen were in competition mode throughout their respective stints despite being generally friendly with a select part of the contingent during rest or transitory periods. They weren’t too warm, but whenever the cameras or the pageant bigwigs were present, they brought out their best selves, impressing the people who matter in the process.

Interestingly, they remain good friends with the other participants as their once-competitive demeanours have shifted to ones that are friendly and caring, having been freed from the bullish nature of life-changing competitions like beauty pageants.

All told, for the average viewer, a queen is crowned after proving herself worthy physically, emotionally, and mentally in front of a panel of judges. But for many of the ladies I met, they were already wearing crowns from the moment they started enjoying their interactions in the buses that ferried us from one location to another. Creed and colour didn’t matter – only the understanding that they were with sisters who were there to join them every step of the way throughout and perhaps beyond the competition.

Those moments, to me, are more precious than any jewel-riddled crown.