The Miss Universe pageant has often been mocked for its implication that extraterrestrial life-forms would be welcome to enter, but ‘universe’ here operates more as a rhetoric of universalism. Miss Universe has historically favoured a pleasantly utopian rhetoric of celebrating feminine beauty wherever it is to be found – even though its ideals of beauty have strongly favoured those of white America, where the pageant was founded. (The United States has won the pageant seven times – the most of any nation.) Between 1960 and 1990, contestants recited the Miss Universe Creed:
“We, the young women of the universe, believe people everywhere are seeking peace, tolerance and mutual understanding. We pledge to spread this message in every way we can, wherever we go.”Still, like the similarly utopian Olympic Games, Eurovision Song Contest and World’s Fairs, the pageant is explicitly set up as a carnival of national virtue on the international stage. And its contestants are ambassadors, not just for world peace, but for their countries. The pageant is a collision of commercial imperatives. It began in its current form in 1952 to promote Catalina swimsuits, and has been passed like a football between several other corporate entities. Now it’s well known for its association with entrepreneur Donald Trump, who acquired it in 1996. Since 1955 Miss Universe has also been a televised event; it has screened across the United States since 1960. In 1972, the availability of satellite broadcasting meant the pageant could be hosted outside the US and still be televised, and could also be broadcast in other countries. The competition has since become an object of international spectacle and national parochialism in the countries whose citizens compete. Hence, the most revealing segment of the competition isn’t the swimsuit round. It’s the national costume round. The eye-popping outfits routinely donned by pageant constants offer plenty of opportunities for mockery in the media, but they’re best understood as the coming-together of three impulses.