Nuestra Belleza:
Beauty Pageants in Latin America

What rewards await the beauty pageant winner? Simply put, fame and fortune. One can become a telenovela star, as in the case of Cecilia Bolocco, a Miss Universe winner from Chile, who went on to star in Televisa's Morelia. Better yet, a recording career or even Hollywood awaits, as in the case of Maria Conchita Alonso of Venezuela. Sometimes, the fame can even be leveraged into a political career, as in the case of 1987 Miss Universe Irene Sáez Conde, who became the mayor of the Chacao district in Caracas (Venezuela) and is, by all accounts, an extremely capable, effective and popular manager.

Of course, the road to the top is not easy. The age range for competition is fairly short and one must have the dedication and desire to prepare for it. In Venezuela, there is a famous Miss Academy, which trains prospective contestants on posture, dancing, speech, and even offers plastic surgery. The competition resembles a single-elimination tournament structured as a hierarchy that becomes increasingly important as one progresses up the ladder.

In the beginning, one might start off by competing for local titles (e.g. Miss Subway, Miss Trade Fair); then, one competes for district titles (e.g. Miss Miraflores); then, one competes for city titles (e.g. Miss Lima); then, one competes for provincial or state titles (e.g. Miss Sonora, or Miss Bahia).

At the next level, the provincial or state winners compete for the national title (e.g. Miss Chile, Miss Colombia, Miss Mundo Colombia, Miss Costa Rica, Miss Ecuador, Nuestra Bellza de Mexico, Miss Paraguay, Miss Peru, Miss Puerto Rico, Ms Belleza Latina, Miss US Latina or Miss Venezuela). (Note: the word Miss is always used, and never Señorita!) Here, the contestants receive national media exposure.

Nuestra Belleza of Mexico 1996

The winners of national pageants then proceed to regional competitions (such as Nuestra Belleza, Miss Hispanidad, Miss South America, Miss Meso-America). Such events are likely to be broadcast across the continent. These television shows hype up their ratings by using celebrity judges. For example, Don Francisco (of Sábado Gigante) and singer El General were judges at Nuestra Belleza 1996.

Nuestra Belleza 1996

The winners of some national pageants proceed to global competitions (such as Miss Universe, Miss World, Miss Globe). Such events are broadcast worldwide and may be seen by hundreds of millions of people (see

The title of the most glamorous beauty pageant in Latin America must surely go to Miss Venezuela. Venezuelans take the contest very seriously and the live broadcast on Venevisión has been known to draw more than 80% share of the audience. Although this is an annual event, there is a well-designed and well-maintained Miss Venezuela web site that provides information all year round. There is a special term farándula that is used to describe the hype and gossip --- factual or otherwise --- which surround the lives of celebrities such as beauty queens. There are even Miss Venezuela dolls for sale.

For the people of Venezuela, their beauty queens are a source of national pride. Miss Venezuela winners have gone on to win three Miss Universes and four Miss Worlds, which is a phenomenal rate of success for a country of 20 million people. In 1996, Jacqueline Aguilera and Alicia Machado became Miss World and Miss Universe respectively, thereby placing Venezuela into the Guinness Book of World Records for having simultaneous Miss World-Miss Universe winners on two separate occasions.

Miss Venezuela 1997

Miss Venezuela 2000

We should point out that these pageants are not limited solely to the female of the species. Parallel to the Miss Venezuela pageant, we have the Mr. Venezuela pageant. But we have to say that the female version is much more popular with the people!

Mr Venezuela 1996

We will now look at some survey data collected in the Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica 1996 study. We asked our respondents whether they watched beauty pageants regularly when these programs are shown on television. Overall, 30% of all persons between the ages 12 and 64 said that they do. In Table 1, we break down the answer by different demographic categories. We can characterize the regular viewers as more likely to be upper-middle class middle-aged women. Geographically, these programs are most popular in Chile, Colombia, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. As it turns out, these four countries have WWW sites for their national competitions (Miss Chile, Miss Colombia, Miss Puerto Rico and Miss Venezuela)

Table 1. %Watched Beauty Pageants on TV Regularly by Demographic Category

Demographic/Geographic Category % Watched Beauty Pageants on TV Regularly
Male 20%
Female 40%
Persons 12-17 22%
Persons 18-34 30%
Persons 35-49 37%
Persons 50-64 29%
SES Level A 29%
SES Level B 34%
SES Level C 29%
SES Level D 28%
Argentina 19%
Brazil 20%
Chile 38%
Colombia 47%
Mexico 27%
Puerto Rico 62%
Venezuela 57%

(Source: Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica 1996)

Given the fact that these viewers are primarily women and given the fact that they watch beauty pageants regularly, what else might we guess? An astute marketer would have guessed that these viewers would be a promising target for female beauty products. In Table 2, we break down the viewership among those women who use various beauty products. In most instances, their usage levels are significantly higher than the population as a whole.

Table 2. % of Women Who Watched Beauty Pageants on TV Regularly
by Usage of Beauty Products in Last 6 Months

Used Beauty Product in Last 6 Months % Watched Beauty Pageants on TV Regularly
Hair mousse 57%
Hair spray 54%
Eye shadow 54%
Blusher 53%
Eye liner 52%
Foundation make-up 52%
Facial powder 51%
Hair Gels 51%
Nail polish remover 50%
Pressed powder 50%
Mascara 47%
Nail care products & polish 43%
Lip stick/lip gloss 41%

(Source: Los Medios y Mercados de Latinoamérica 1996)

(posted by Roland Soong, September 16th, 1997)

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