Beauty Pageants in Harris County, TX: Rules and Regulations Redefined

ASHLEY SWANSON WASN'T THE KIND OF GIRL YOU'D EXPECT TO FIND IN A BEAUTY PAGEANT. At sixteen, she was six feet and two inches tall, walking with the clumsy pace of very tall girls, when their bodies look like elbows and shoulder blades and long, thin legs that haven't yet found their center of gravity. She rarely wore makeup, and her brown hair was often curled up, shallowly, in the shape of a ponytail; when it hung loose from her shoulders, it made her nervous. Until recently, her only concession to glamor was her eyebrows, which she waxed in the shape of half moons that arched above the brown frame of her glasses.

Beauty pageants have been around for a long time and are popular in many parts of the world. In Harris County, Texas, there are specific rules and regulations that govern beauty pageants. While many of the contestants are talented in many different ways, there's no acting talent required and it's not part of the score. A new contest in the state of Texas is aiming to revolutionize beauty standards by creating opportunities for sisterhood and celebrating plus-size women.

This weekend, five contestants will compete for the first edition of Ms. Texas 1979, which wrested control of the organization from Richard Guy and Rex Holt, the famous duo from El Paso that won five consecutive national winners in the eighties, amid rumors of contest manipulation. Only a handful of girls had participated in this contest without previous experience, as Ashley had done (girls who didn't yet have a title received one for the weekend from the contest's organizers). Most had already competed in a local beauty contest, of which there are hundreds in Texas every year, some organized by chambers of commerce, along with local harvest festivals; others organized by the non-profit organization Miss America, in which girls compete for scholarships; and others organized by the non-profit organization Miss Universe (co-owned by NBC and Donald Trump), in which girls pay to compete for prizes. Included in your registration is an intensive training program for 4-week beauty pageants sponsored by MISS Academy's Sash Class. The day after Thanksgiving, four hours before the orientation session of the Miss Texas Teen USA 2003 pageant began, Ashley was sitting waiting in the lobby of a Houston hotel.

From the moment they register to attend the contest, the contestants will have a full schedule of activities, interviews, rehearsals and shows. Tye was beautiful in a way that needed no embellishment, with porcelain skin, blue eyes, a small waist, and a willow dancer's body. Exactly what motivated Ashley to enter a beauty contest was for less obvious reasons than the desire to win. Inside the hotel, the contestants of the contest, who were between fourteen and eighteen years old, crossed the lobby, coldly evaluating the competition. These contests demand very different standards and expectations from those that girls in Texas are supposed to meet every day.

However, some girls, such as Miss April Sound, have chosen to compete in hundreds of contests. Ashley knelt on the dressing room floor in front of the CCTV, watching the event unfold. The part of the personal interview of the contest, in which the judges had to evaluate the “inner beauty, personality and character” of a girl as indicated in her manual began at nine o'clock the next morning without an audience in a cold conference room of a hotel. AT NOON ON THE LAST DAY OF THE BEAUTY CONTEST an hour before the final competition began Bria Wall was being cared for by her hair and makeup specialists in a suite on the tenth floor of the hotel. To begin with it was believed that any girl representing Houston always had an advantage in the contest; just as beauty queens from Texas have a certain mystique on a national stage eight Texans have been crowned Miss USA as have Houston girls at home. The beauty pageant scene in Harris County is changing rapidly with new rules and regulations being implemented to redefine beauty standards. The Miss Texas 1979 pageant is leading this revolution by creating opportunities for sisterhood and celebrating plus-size women.

Contestants must register for an intensive training program sponsored by MISS Academy's Sash Class before they can participate. During their stay they will be expected to attend interviews rehearsals shows and other activities while being judged on their inner beauty personality and character. The competition is fierce with hundreds of local beauty contests taking place every year across Texas. However some contestants such as Miss April Sound have chosen to compete in hundreds of contests giving them an advantage over those who are new to this scene. The Miss Texas Teen USA 2003 pageant is an example of how beauty pageants can be used to empower young women while also providing them with an opportunity to showcase their talents. With these new rules and regulations Harris County is leading a revolution that is redefining beauty standards across Texas.

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