Miss Universe to Miss World: What's the difference between the big beauty pageants?

We break down the most popular international events for beauty queens and kings

Miss Universe Bahrain Evlin Khalifa's national costume was created by Filipino designer Furne One. Photo: Miss Universe Bahrain
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This year's Miss Universe has had 86 competitors battling it out to take the prestigious crown, including the second contestant from the Gulf, Miss Universe Bahrain Evlin Khalifa. Miss USA R'Bonney Gabriel took the crown, becoming the first Filipina-American winner of the contest.

In December, the second official participant from the UAE headed to Las Vegas for Mrs World, Pamala Serena, although Mrs India Sargam Koushal took the crown.

Mrs World aims to “celebrate the uniqueness of married women” around the world, but it’s only one of the glamorous — and often controversy-racked — events, along with Miss Universe, on the pageant calendar.

Traditionally focusing on judging and ranking the contestant’s physical attributes, pageants have since evolved to assess inner beauty, personality, charity and, rather famously, the pursuit of world peace.

But with more bling up for grabs than an episode of Toddlers & Tiaras, it’s easy to get confused as to the hierarchy of the pageant world.

The term beauty pageant traditionally refers to the “Big Four” international titles: Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss International and Miss Earth.

Pageants typically cover Miss, Mrs and the odd Mr category, each with their own individual entry requirements.

Here, we take a look at the world’s major beauty pageants and discover what really goes on behind the sparkles and sashes.

Miss Universe

The Miss Universe pageant was launched in 1952, the year after Miss World was founded. The main differences between the two include the locations of their headquarters, with Miss World operating out of London and Miss Universe in New York, as well as the benefactors of their fundraising.

The Miss Universe event is also marked by its national costume segment, in which contestants showcase their creativity and personality through their country’s traditional garments.

Nothing official currently exists to rank one pageant higher than the other and both are accepted as the world’s leading pageantry bodies.

Reigning Miss Universe, Harnaaz Sandhu, was crowned in Israel in 2021 and was the first Indian competitor in 21 years to take the title. She moved to New York to embark on her year abroad, working alongside the Miss Universe Organisation.

The 2022 pageant took place on Sunday in New Orleans, where Gabriel succeeded Sandhu.

Big changes are afoot at the organisation for next year. In October, Thai media and content company JKN Global Group acquired the Miss Universe Organisation from IMG, making chief executive Anne Jakkaphong Jakrajutatip the first woman to own the global beauty competition in its 70-year history.

JKN, which owns a portfolio of broadcast and media titles, said the deal will build on the pageant's legacy and further its commitment to inclusivity. There are also plans to expand the Miss Universe brand, including the launch of MU Lifestyle, a new licensing and merchandising arm.

Last year, the Miss Universe Organisation made a historic decision to change qualification rules for contestants for the first time in seven decades. According to an internal memo seen by The National, the organisation said it will allow married women and mothers to participate.

Previously, only single women, aged between 18 and 28, who have never been married or had children, could apply.

The rules will be applicable in the 2023 contest, expected to be held later this year.

Mrs World

The Mrs World pageant was founded in 1984 and has taken place around the world, from India and Russia to South Africa and South Korea.

This year, the new title-holder was crowned in a glamorous ceremony on December 17 at a glitzy event in Las Vegas, which was available to live-stream around the world.

The winner was India's Sargam Koushal. The teacher and model from Mumbai was named the winner after beating 63 other contestants for the coveted title. She received the crown on stage in Vegas from Mrs World 2022, Shaylyn Ford, who represented the US.

Last year, Mrs Jordan Jaclyn Stapp was a runner-up and Mrs UAE World came in third.

To enter, contestants must be married at the date of entry, be at least 18 years old and a resident of the country for which they compete, with organisers looking for “poised, articulate and stunning married women”.

A public poll allows people to vote for their favourite contestants, forming a top 15.

Mrs World 2021 was Kate Schneider, Mrs Ireland World, who was crowned following the resignation of the original winner, Caroline Jurie, after a bizarre on-stage fracas at a beauty pageant in Sri Lanka.

Jurie relinquished her title while defending her decision to remove the crown from the head of the Mrs Sri Lanka 2021 winner, Pushpika De Silva, who she claimed was unqualified to take part in the contest because she was divorced.

Miss World

Miss World was launched in 1951 by Eric Morley, who became known as "Mr World″ after he founded the famed beauty pageant.

The competition was created in the UK and is the oldest-running international beauty pageant. Since his death in 2000, Morley's widow, Julia Morley, has co-chaired the event.

To enter, contestants must be unmarried and childless, between the ages of 17 and 27 and be a resident of the country they represent.

The title is currently held by Miss Jamaica World 2019, Toni-Ann Singh, whose reign as the longest titleholder in history was extended following the delay of the annual beauty pageant for the second year due to Covid-19.

The event, which was planned for December 2021, was rescheduled for last March 16 after a Covid-19 outbreak during the preliminary rounds at the pageant in Puerto Rico.

Poland's Karolina Bielawska took the title of Miss World 2021, with Shree Saini from the US as first runner-up and Olivia Yace from Cote d'Ivoire as second runner-up.

Mr World

The Miss World organisation upped their inclusivity game in 1996 when they opened the pageant to men through the Mr World competition, with entrants being tested in sports, talent, popularity and modelling.

The reigning titleholder is Mr World England, Jack Heslewood, who won the coveted title of Mr World 2019 to become the “world’s most desirable man”.

The aerospace engineering graduate, who has a master’s degree in business, is a former rocket scientist for Marshall Aerospace and now works as an advertising technology manager.

Currently, there are no known plans for a 2023 Mr World competition.

Mrs Universe

Mrs Universe is an international, global event to find "the most honourable married woman", first organised in 2007 in Sofia, Bulgaria.

The event is open to married women between the ages of 18 and 55 with family, a career and a charitable background. Despite the similar name, the competition is a separate entity to Miss Universe and is owned by Mrs Universe private limited.

The reigning Mrs Universe is Ana Siradze, a Russian woman who competed on behalf of Georgia, and was crowned in a ceremony in Seoul in 2021 over 110 other contestants.

Miss Earth

Miss Earth, founded in 2001, is an annual international pageant that advocates for conservation and environmental awareness.

The 2022 pageant was held in December, in Manila, with Mina Sue Choi, a communications student representing South Korea, winning the Miss Earth 2022 crown, beating 85 other contestants from around the world.

The contest places "elemental" titles on the rest of the finalists — Miss Fire, Miss Water and Miss Air. Nadeen Ayoub, who made history as the first person to represent Palestine in the Miss Earth contest, was crowned Miss Earth Water.

Each Miss Earth winner becomes the spokeswoman for the Miss Earth Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme and commits to working with the World Wildlife Foundation.

As well as contributing to environmental protection programmes, the Miss Earth competition also aims to showcase various tourist destinations, while participants “compete on beauty and knowledge of environmental issues”.

The details of the Miss Earth 2023 pageant are yet to be announced, though entrants must be single, childless females between the ages of 18 and 28, measuring at least 162.5cm in height and possessing “beauty of face and proportionate body structure”.

Miss International

Established in 1960 in Long Beach, California, Miss International is a global search for the “most elegant woman in the world”.

The Japan pageant is organised by International Culture Association under the slogan "correct understanding of Japan in the international community".

The current Miss International is Jasmin Selberg of Germany, who was crowned at the Miss International 2022 pageant on December 13 in Tokyo.

A version of this article was first published on January 11, 2022

Updated: January 15, 2023, 1:20 PM