No matter how effortless they made it look tonight, the 2015 Miss USA contestants have likely spent years being trotted around stages and scrutinized for their appearance, all while suffering the heartbreak that comes with struggling and failing before you make your way to the top. And all the while, outsiders look at these women and think to themselves, "Why be in a beauty pageant?"
While competitions like these might seem archaic and bizarre, there are still plenty of reasons why it's absolutely defensible to want to be a part of the madness — and most of those reasons have nothing to do with the desire to spend six or seven hours in hair and makeup. There are more than a few benefits to being in pageants like Miss USA, and the contestants have worked incredibly hard to earn them.
And don't get it twisted: Though some contestants have been involved in pageants since they were young, competitions like Miss USA and Miss Universe are a far cry from the troubled world of Toddlers and Tiaras. These are smart, capable women who have a clear idea of what they're working toward. Sure, it might be difficult for people to reconcile the cost-benefit of being a part of something that seems so superficial, but to dismiss these women's efforts without examining why they'd want to participate is totally unfair — especially without considering the perks.
1. Being in the Miss USA pageant means being part of history.
Most people know that Miss USA and Miss America are rival pageants, but few people know why. The above video tells the story of 1950 Miss America winner Yolanda Betbeze and her refusal to wear a swimsuit in promotional ads for the show. This caused swimwear brand Catalina to create its own pageant, which eventually became the Miss USA we know today. There's something cool about the fact that this pageant started with a little controversy.
2. Beauty pageants can build confidence.
Cynics might roll their eyes at this one, but there actually is a bit more to being in a pageant than just standing there and looking beautiful. Many pageant contestants spend years building their public speaking skills, and competition winners (even at the lower levels) are often put in positions of leadership within their pageant organization. Many previous Miss USA contestants have reported on the confidence-building aspect of their experience, including this year's Miss Iowa, Taylor Even, who said pageants helped her overcome a childhood plagued by shyness.
3. You get to rep for your home state.
(Last year's winner, Nia Sanchez, doing her home state of Nevada proud.)
Each one of Miss USA's 51 contestants is speaking on behalf on the place they were born and raised, and the feeling that comes with being a hometown hero is certainly unparalleled. If I were a Miss USA contestant, I'd like to think I'd bring honor to my home state of Ohio. My talent would be making corned beef sandwiches while arguing about the Browns.
4. You get lots — and I mean lots — of sweet prizes.
Each Miss USA winner gets a large sum of money (the actual amount is undisclosed), but that's just the beginning of the benefits of taking the crown. In addition to having your own custom diamond tiara and jewelry, you get a one-year lease on an apartment in New York City, tons of travel opportunities, and thousands of dollars worth of merchandise from the pageant's sponsors. Basically, it's like taking a break from real life and living in some kind of delusional princess fever dream for a year. In other words, it sounds amazing.
5. If you win Miss USA, you get to move on to Miss Universe.
(Former Miss USA and 2012 Miss Universe Olivia Culpo, pictured with Nick Jonas, who was not on the official list of competition prizes.)
For women who have spent years competing in pageants, Miss Universe is like arriving in the promised land. The stakes are higher, the prizes are even better, and you get to compete with beauty queens from all over the world. Sometimes, a Miss USA contestant even manages to snatch the Miss Universe crown, like Rhode Island queen Olivia Culpo did in 2012. The best part? If you win Miss Universe, your year-long reign is spent touring all over the world. And, if you're like Olivia Culpo, you'll also get to spend some time dating Nick Jonas.
Images: Getty (2); venemiami/Youtube; Giphy (2)