Mental health and dynamics in the pageant industry

Pageant groups often differ in their criteria, focus and traditions. From Miss America to Miss USA and others, competitions may have distinct themes, such as cultural heritage or community service shaping their overall identity and purpose. (Courtesy of Katie Ann Powell)

As a result of recent revelations from former pageant titleholders, controversy has erupted within the pageantry industry.

Noelia Voigt’s decision to step down as Miss USA, citing mental health concerns and allegations of workplace bullying, has cast a spotlight on the industry’s allegedly darker aspects. 

Citing concerns about her well-being, Voigt spoke out about mistreatment by the organization’s owner, Laylah Rose. 

“The owner would constantly weaponize the contract. … That is the definition of a toxic workplace,” Voigt said. 

As the conversation gains momentum, local voices add depth to the narrative, shedding light on their own experiences within the pageant community.

Caroline Johnson, a graduate student at BYU, reflects on her pageant experiences with a mix of sentiment and skepticism. 

“Everything feels so high-stakes when in reality it’s not real,” Johnson said, explaining the intense pressure contestants face.

Johnson has participated in two pageants, her first in 2019 winning a spirit award for Miss Davis County and in 2022 winning the Days of 47 pageant.

She explained that in both pageants she participated in, she showcased Scottish dancing, a heritage-preserving art, which proved advantageous in the Days of 47 context which was very different from traditional pageants like Miss Davis County.

Caroline said that she was grateful to have the experience and have fun.

“There are girls where pageants aren’t just what they do, it’s how they pay for school and support themselves whereas I was just approaching this as a hobby. It wasn’t an end-all-be-all. Which is a privilege of mine.” she said. 

Katie Ann Powell, a BYU alumna says her experience of pageants had a positive impact on her engagement within the community and lasting friendships. 

Starting with winning Miss Sandy 2016 in high school, Powell continued her pageant journey, becoming Miss Provo, Miss Greater Salt Lake and runner-up for Miss Utah twice.

Katie Ann Powell stands on stage at Miss Utah as one of the top five contestants. She explains her platform to the audience and judges. (Courtesy of Katie Ann Powell)

Her best friend of seven years came from her very first pageant back in 2016. 

“Obviously it’s hard to become best friends with all 50 people but there are a few that are quite literally my best friends and will be for life,” she said.

Powell credits the industry for opening doors to meaningful conversations and connections.

“That’s what I love about the Miss America organization is it really is a door-opener for conversations that otherwise a woman under 30 would never have been invited to,” she said. 

In discussing the recent resignations, she expressed her support for these women prioritizing their mental health.

“I’m grateful that women are conscious of their mental health and of appropriateness in leadership,” she said. “I hope that management also takes that as a signal to reassess themselves.” 

I​​n a statement to USA Today, Laylah Rose, CEO and president of Miss USA stated, “Our all-encompassing goal at Miss USA is to celebrate and empower women. Our participants make a real difference in this country and around the globe.”

With the spotlight now firmly on issues of mental health and workplace dynamics, eyes are on Miss USA pageantry to create change.

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