The Miss Universe pageant is one of the most anticipated international competitions in the world. Beyond highlighting the sheer beauty and admirable intelligence of more than a hundred dashing women worldwide, the beauty pageant also showcases their extraordinary talent, celebrates their cultures, and poses as a platform to share with the world their powerful advocacy.
Miss Universe Harnaaz Sandhu, Miss Universe Organization CEO Amy Emmerich, and Miss Universe Organization President Paula Shugart tell the unheard-of story of the organization and share what goes on behind the scenes, at Advertising Week New York. Lea Goldman, deputy editorial director at G/O Media, moderated the session, “Setting the Record Straight with the Miss Universe Organization,” and together with the speakers recounted how the brand affords opportunities in order to build a global community of badass women.
What goes on behind closed doors
Women, during the era where the Miss Universe Organization was formed, were not recognized to be in positions of power or in any valuable place in society as they are seen today. In their humble beginnings, beauty pageants like Miss Universe were not taken seriously in the entertainment business. “The Miss Universe is a brand that is completely misunderstood, especially in this country,” said Miss Universe Organization CEO Amy Emmerich.
Emmerich admits she was not sure about taking the job when she got the offer, but all it took was to sit as a judge during rehearsal for her to be fascinated by the brilliance that the brand is doing—to forge a future created by women. “These women are smarter than I ever would imagine or was ever told through media,” the award-winning producer and decades-long media executive added. “The brand does not get its fair share of respect from the media.”
Miss Universe Organization President Paula Shugart admitted that she carried with her the same stereotypes that the world had about the organization when she joined. Overcoming these stereotypes, she said, “but then you get over 90 women from around the world to come through the system, take the microphone, and use it to advance their platforms—now we’ve been a reflection of society.”
Miss Universe 2021 Harnaaz Sandhu from India uses the attention she has with the purpose to break the stigma around the brand. Agreeing with Shugart, she said there is so much power in a microphone. “You realize you get the crown but they actually hand you the megaphone, and then you take that legacy forward.”
Pageantry is more than just a pretty face—it is a job
The Miss Universe Organization does not see the pageant as a group of women posing their beauty to the world as much as it sees it as a public job interview. “You’re trying to find somebody who has the ‘it’ factor to be your ambassador to communicate the message and the purpose of the brand,” Emmerich said.
Consequentially, the participants of the Miss Universe, especially the titleholder, have the biggest job of effectively putting that message out into the world. And for the current Miss Universe, the message is this: beauty comes in all shapes, all sizes, all colors, and all backgrounds.
“The crown is heavy; the sash is heavy. But even heavier than that are the responsibilities and passion to do something impactful.”
– Harnaaz Sandhu, Miss Universe 2021
The annual big event undeniably creates opportunities for passionate women around the world to make the changes they want to see. “That is what Miss Universe has always been about,” the Indian actress and model added.
Not only has the organization removed the stigma against beauty pageants and broken barriers time and again, it also teaches young girls that women can wield power and be comfortable with that power. “I don’t know another brand that does that,” said Emmerich.
The way forward
Evidently, the Miss Universe has gotten over the signs of the times. In 2012, it began allowing transgender women to participate in the international pageant and in 2018, it welcomed Miss Spain Angela Ponce — the first transgender woman to ever compete. “The organization has changed over the years,” Shugart said. “We’ve changed our rules and we’ve always been at the forefront.”
The way they did that is by looking at what they were missing on the inside to match the outside. They changed with the times and modernized the way the business is done. “We are really truly shifting culture,” Emmerich said in agreement.
We especially see this reality when Miss Argentina Mariana Varela and Miss Puerto Rico Fabiola Valentin secretly tied the knot, with their marriage on October 28, after announcing their secret relationship to the world. Varela competed at the Miss Universe 2019 and met Valentin at the Miss Grand International competition in Thailand in 2020.
For 71 years now, the Miss Universe Organization has been a powerful platform for many women across the globe to share their incredible and inspiring stories with the purpose to make a change. With the power of being in the black hole of technology, the brand aims to continually reach people around the world with one message.
“The young generation is ready for the change,” Sandhu said, “they just want icons to look up to.”
Karen is responsible for editorial support and covers agency, digital content, and D&I news.