The Objectification of Women in the Media: A Case Study of Beauty Pageants in The New York Times, 1924-2018




R.Q. Has the New York Times changed how it has written about beauty pageants over time?

And does this show a change in how the media has written about women?




The purpose of this study is to analyse how the media discourse on women in pageants has changed over time and use this to show whether the media has changed how it writes about women. Particularly, it looks at on how focus has been drawn on the importance of women’s appearances and measurements as a means of judging their beauty and success. The research tackles historical contexts into why we have pageants and seeks to find parallels between traditional women’s roles and how this relates to beauty pageants. 


The research studies this change with the use of the New York Times archive, analysing articles from 1924 -2018. The articles are studied by their references to women’s looks, body type and other notable factors, with the aim of finding whether they continue to value the importance of women’s appearances even today. The relationship between existing gender and power roles is emphasised within the research.


Overall, it reveals that whilst there are changes in media discussion, the pageant competitions are dated shows that have little value in today’s society. They are shown to be a place for women to gain scholarship funds and have a platform to help others through charitable work, however only if they fit into a certain aesthetic and are comfortable to parade on national television in a swimsuit and glamourous gown. The increased pressure for the pageant to find relevance in today’s society is analysed in the changes the pageant undergoes over the years and is analysed in the articles of the New York Times. The research results worryingly imply that the national and even United Nations-led campaigns for gender reforms are yet to have an impact on women’s representations in the media.