Beauty competitions were held on Lesbos in the time of Sappho (circa 650 B.C.). During the Heraea, there was Kallistea, a beauty contest. It is mentioned briefly in SAPPHO OF LESBOS: HER LIFE AND TIMES, published in 1932 by Arthur Edward Pearse Brome Weigall. The book is now out of print, but is available from Google Books. (Several used copies are for sale on Amazon.)
In HERE SHE COMES, MISS AMPHIPOLIS (Xena Episode #35), one of the contestants is Miss Artiphys, a cross-dresser played by the late Karen Dior, who was born Geoffrey Gann. Miss Artiphys wins the competition with Xena’s help and becomes Miss Known World.
The Heraea also included the only regular athletic competition for women outside of Sparta, a foot race. And while the men competed in the Olympics naked, the women wore a Doric chiton which was a costume usually worn by men doing heavy labour. The garment came to slightly above the knee and bared the right shoulder and breast. It was often worn with a belt.
The beginning of the Olympic Games is portrayed, perhaps less than accurately, in Episode #29 of HERCULES THE LEGENDARY JOURNEYS (Let the Games Begin). Not only were the women of Ancient Greece not allowed to compete with men, they were not allowed to watch the men compete (on penalty of being tossed off of a cliff). The costume worn by Cory Everson in the role of Atalanta would never have been permitted. Sparta was the exception. The women of Sparta were allowed to compete in Olympic events, and in gymnopaedia, the Spartan festival of naked youth.
(Atalanta was, in Greek myth, abandoned in the woods as an infant and raised by a female bear as one of its cubs. Eventually, she was found by hunters and became an accomplished spear-thrower and bowman (bow-woman?) and a very fast runner. Meleager, who also turns up in Xena, killed the Calydonian Boar only after it was first wounded by Atalanta.)
But in Arcadia, which was more likely the scene of Xena’s fictitious Miss Known World Pageant, beauty contests were associated with the Elusinian Mysteries and Demeter. The contestants were referred to as “gold-bearing”, probably in reference to the presumed value of their offspring. Given the politics of that area at the time, it is reasonably plausible that a pageant might have been used as a diplomatic vehicle to avoid conflict.
The Eleans (the people who held the Olympic Games) also held beauty pageants for men, in honour of Athena. The winning man received a suit of armour and a myrtle wreath. According to Athenaeus, the men’s contests were also celebrated on the islands of Lesbos and Tenedos (now Bozcaada).
Jenna Talackova was recently dismissed from the Miss Universe Canada Pageant because she was born a man. After receiving several petitions requesting her reinstatement, the organization tentatively reversed their position, saying: “The Miss Universe Organization will allow Jenna Talackova to compete in the 2012 Miss Universe Canada pageant provided she meets the legal gender recognition requirements of Canada, and the standards established by other international competitions.”
This reminded me of Xena episode #35 and prompted the preceding article.