Beauty pageants seem the closest to a princess’s tale: dazzling gowns, glamorous contests and a jeweled crown that will make you feel like royalty. Well, no. They are not, IRL. From problematic qualifiers to enter the competition to some ugly moments on-stage, these beauty pageants can turn ‘pretty ugly’. 

Here are 9 of the biggest controversies associated with beauty pageants over the years.

1. When Cambridge students kidnapped Miss South Africa, Johanna Carter, for money.

In 1966, Miss World contestants visited the Cambridge University campus, where a group of nine students kidnapped Miss South Africa, Johanna Carter, and planned to ransom her to raise money for a student charity week. But their plan was foiled when Carter screamed and raised an alarm.


2. When host Steve Harvey mistakenly named Miss Colombia the winner of Miss Universe 2015.

The host of Miss Universe 2015 Steve Harley misread his cue card and named Miss Colombia, Ariadna Gutiérrez Arévalo, the winner, when it was Miss Philippines, Pia Alonzo Wurztbach. For four ‘whole’ minutes, Miss Columbia remained the winner of the pageant, but her crown was removed then. So much for awkwardness. 


3. When Miss USA went into rehab after reports of drug use.

In 2006, it was reported that Miss USA, Tara Conner, was using cocaine and drinking even on being underage. It was even alleged that she wasn’t paying heed to and not attending Miss USA related events. Donald Trump, who owned Miss USA pageant at that time, decided to not strip her off her crown, but give her a second chance by sending her into rehab. 

Irish America

4. When Miss Hispanic America was caught in a drug trafficking scandal.

Laura Zuniga, Miss Hispanic America, was detained with her boyfriend and six others in 2006, on charges of racketeering, drug trafficking, weapons violations, and money laundering. Reportedly, pistols, rifles and a huge sum of cash was found in the car Zuniga was travelling in. However, she later said that she was kidnapped by her boyfriend and was unaware of his illegal activities. 

Taipei Times

5. When Jenna Talackova was disqualified from Miss Universe Canada because she is a transgender. 

In 2012, Jenna Talackova made her way to being a top 12 finalist of Miss Universe Canada, but was disqualified from the pageant. It was after officials found out that she wasn’t a “naturally born female” as was specified in the guidelines, but had undergone a sex reassignment surgery. However, the incident invited a lot of backlash, and the ban on transgender contestants was removed soon after.

IB Times India

6. When Miss Delaware was uncrowned because she was ‘too old’: at 24 years of age.

Yep, that’s what the committee thought. After two weeks of enjoying being Miss Delaware, Amanda Longacre was stripped off her title and the $11,000 scholarship money as she was ‘too old’ to compete in the Miss America pageant that was to follow soon after. Reason being, she was turning 25 that year, which meant she would ‘age out’. 

The Great Pageant Community

7. When Miss Puerto Rico’s dress was sabotaged with pepper spray.

During the 2008 Miss Universe pageant, Miss Puerto Rico, Ingrid Marie Rivera, revealed that a contestant had tampered with her dress and doused it in pepper spray. While she didn’t let the pepper’s reaction show on her face on-stage, she rushed to the backstage after the event was over and applied ice packs to her body as she was swollen with allergies. 

While initially, the Forensic Sciences Institute accused Rivera of lying, it was later proved that she indeed became a victim to rivalry. But it didn’t work, as Rivera won the title.


8. When 400 women showed up at the 1968 Miss America pageant to protest against it.

60’s was the time of radical feminism. And at the time, around 400 women came out to protest against the Miss America pageant. These women chanted slogans like, “Ain’t she sweet, makin’ profit off her meat“, crowned a live sheep on the boardwalk and dumped stuff like aprons, dust mops, cosmetics and bras into a Freedom Trash Can.

Time Magazine

9. When Mrs World pulled off the crown from Mrs Sri Lanka’s head because the latter was apparently a divorcee.

Soon after Pushpika De Silva was announced as the winner in 2021, Mrs World, Caroline Jurie, yanked the crown off De Silva’s head, hurting her in the process, and announced the runner-up as the winner instead. The whole drama unfolded because Jurie alleged on-stage, publicly, that De Silva was a divorcee, and she shouldn’t have been allowed to compete. 

Later in a statement, De Silva said that she was just living separately from her husband and had not divorced. Later, De Silva was returned her crown. 


Well, beauty pageants are definitely no less than a soap opera. But in real life.