Last night I stumbled upon the website of the Beauty and Brains Pageant, an international pageant for all women aged 17 and above, regardless of citizenship, residence, marital status, or place of study. From its website:
Sponsored by the Institute for Education, Research, and Scholarships (IFERS), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public charity organization, the Beauty and Brains Pageant emphasizes personal achievement and community service.
Participants are gauged on four aspects: the interview, business attire, evening gown, and community service (no swimsuits). The winner (Miss Beauty and Brains?) would earn a $10,000 scholarship, and a 6-week casting workshop. (Runners-up get scholarship money too.)
Now I’m the antithesis of a beauty pageant contestant. The closest I am to “modelly” is having had glamour photos taken (once as a birthday present, once as a lucky draw prize) and having fun dressing up in costume. I do not have beauty-queen looks, I find fashion and beauty (in the material sense) boring, I do not aspire to be a model – indeed, the only thing “beauty queen”-like about me is my name. However, this pageant seemed rather intriguing. It seemed to be focused more on personal development than on looks. Even their application form (PDF file) is surprisingly decent: most of the questions are based on community work, career plans, and role models, and there are no questions about looks – nothing about height, weight, vital statistics, colours, or anything of the sort.
Besides, it’s something I actually qualify for. I have been hunting high and low for scholarships for myself, but could not find anything I qualified for. I was either in the wrong course, the wrong country, of the wrong nationality, or just didn’t fit some other random requirement. The only one I’ve applied to so far is the Dean’s Merit Scholarship offered by my faculty, and that’s technically for a future student coming into second year – not a current student like myself that’s already spent a semester. Here, they don’t care where I live, where I study, whether I’m single or married (I wonder if they’ll care that I have a boyfriend?), or what I’m studying. I could even have children and I’d still qualify.
As un-pageanty as I am, I considered applying anyway, just as a lark. I remembered one of the contestants of MTV’s Made, a self-described tomboy who wanted to be a pageant contestant. She was struggling through the whole pageant process (which she described and showed as rather fake), and while she ultimately didn’t win, she had more personality than all the other contestants put together – and even became Homecoming Queen (or Prom Queen) at her school! At least, if nothing else, it would make a good laugh. However, I couldn’t seem to figure out if IFERS or the pageant itself were legitimate. Among some concerns:
- Googling for IFERS or the pageant only brings up itself, PR websites, or Craigslist postings. There are few third-party references, and none of them were reputable sources such as newspapers or other media sources.
- While IFERS claimed to have awarded scholarships in connection with groups like the American Film Institute, I could not find independent verification.
- The founder of IFERS, Newton Lee, does seem to exist – he is in charge of the Hollywood Lab at the National University of Singapore. However, he seems to be quite the self-linker – he wrote his own Wikipedia entry and all references to the pageant on Wikipedia (where I first heard about it) were added by him.
- There isn’t much information available about the other organizers. Some are Google-able, but there’s nothing concrete to link them to this pageant other than the pageant website.
- While they do have a Network for Good profile, they’re not on Charity Navigator or the IRS Publication 78 Search. (Then again, Up With People is in the same situation, and I know for sure they’re legit. So who knows.)
- It’s not stated clearly what the US$300 entry fee (paid once you are selected) covers – indeed, there isn’t much information about costs for travel and accommodation. At least they do offer to refund the money if you can’t come.
- The selection process is similarly vague. How do they pick people for the first pre-pageant round? What are they looking for overall – looks? Intelligence? Community spirit? If looks don’t really matter, then why have a pageant?
- They can’t even get the date consistent – IFERS has it listed as end-June; B&B says it’s end-July.
In the absence of independent third-party verification, I will list the Beauty and Brains Pageant as a possible scam, or at least not very well organized. Which is a pity, as the concept seems to have potential – concentrating on community work and personality rather than looks. Then again, it might turn out like Miss Earth did – purportedly about the environment, but all the awards were beauty based (“Best Hair”? “Best Skin”?) and the template interview response being “This is a picture of a drought/war/flood/etc. Droughts/wars/floods/etc are bad. Therefore, we must recycle.”
This brings up something interesting, though. Currently many beauty pageants (at least in the USA) have become viable sources of scholarship money. Indeed, when there aren’t many other options, young women (and occasionally young men) are able to get their education nearly or completely funded through a pageant appearance or two. Miss America, the biggest American pageant, is also one of the world’s biggest scholarship providers, awarding over $45 million in cash and scholarships for winners in national, state, and local levels. Miss America has also gone out of its way to look for more “brains”, as evidenced by its 2002 winner Erika Harold, bound for Harvard Law, who won because she outdid everyone else tremendously in the interview section even though she was beaten in the other sections.
But what about other pageants worldwide? Are they still based on beauty, or have they made efforts to look for well-rounded participants? How do you judge beauty, anyway? As one poster queried in a thread about Miss America’s ratings:
The Miss America system, from bottom to top, provides more scholarship money to women in this country than any other organization. If we rant to rail about anything, that’s the place to start. Why isn’t the largest scholarship program for women one that emphasizes academic performance and community service without regard to physical performance and appearance?
Indeed: why is the world’s largest scholarship provider not an educational body but a beauty pageant?
EDIT: They have responded to an email I sent, claiming to be 100% legitimate and answering a few questions about applications and the $300 (goes towards pageant procedures and scholarships). They responded from a Verizon email address, so I don’t know how legitimate that makes them though.
Links in Post:
- Beauty and Brains Pageant
- Institute for Education, Research, and Scholarships (IFERS)
- Official Beauty and Brains Pageant 2007 Application Form (.PDF)
- QUT Creative Industries: Executive Dean’s Merit Scholarships
- MADE | MTV
- NUS Hollywood Lab
- Wikipedia Contributions: Newtonlee
- Organizers of the Beauty and Brains Pageant
- Network for Good
- Charity Navigator
- Up With People
- Miss Earth
- Miss America
- Salon. Com: Brains 1, Barbie 0
- Metafilter: Comments on 20294