Beauty Speaks: Portraits of 31 Former Miss USA Pageant Queens

3 minute read

Charlotte Sheffield’s baby-blue bathing suit was on display in an upstairs hallway of the Planet Hollywood Casino in Las Vegas. Sheffield herself, 74-years-old and a grandmother of 52 from Salt Lake City, wasn’t actually in the wool suit, but she was sitting nearby, signing autographs. Sheffield, who was crowned the fifth-ever Miss USA in 1957, joined nearly three dozen other former Miss USAs on June 18 to celebrate the contest’s 60th anniversary.

To capture the event, TIME asked Los Angeles-based fine art photographer Susan Anderson, whose work is currently on display in the Annenberg Space for Photography’s Beauty Culture exhibit, to create these exclusive portraits of 31 of the contest’s winners.

The pageant, now owned by Donald Trump and known for far racier swimsuits than Sheffield’s modest get up, has kept the focus firmly on the beauty part of pageantry since its inception in Long Beach, California in 1952. The Miss America contest, on the other hand, prides itself on its talent competition—an element missing from the Miss USA.

This year, the effervescent Sheffield was a big draw for a bevy of Miss Teen USA contestants who lined up for photos and advice. “You’ll have a baby someday and you won’t remember how glamorous you were,” she told one set of teens while she scrawled her name across their program. Then she added: “Hot shoes, baby.” (Once a beauty queen, always a beauty queen.)

Meanwhile, the other “formers,” as they’re called, who range in age from their 70’s to their 20’s, talked about old pageant scandals and discussed the unique pressures of being considered outrageously beautiful–and then having to live up to the title decades later. “My friends want me to get a facelift so that I’ll stay looking the same,” said Sylvia (Hitchcock) Carson, Miss USA 1967. Others feel they still have to prove that they have brains too, while some wonder whether they’ve been courted for themselves or because men want the bragging rights that come with dating a former Miss USA. And then there’s the other thing these women have in common besides their exceptional looks: each of them survived a year of wearing the glittering, metal crown which was heavy enough to press grooves into its wearer’s head even through a bouffant.

The next night, June 19, the formers gathered again to watch another gorgeous young woman, Miss California’s Alyssa Campanella, win the 2011 title and prepare to carry the weight of that crown.

—Text and interviews by Claire Martin

Susan Anderson is a Los Angeles-based commercial, editorial and fine art photographer specializing in fashion, portraiture and conceptual/narrative work. She currently has a book entitled High Glitz, The Extravagant World of Child Beauty Pageants and is in a group exhibition at the Annenberg Space for Photography.

Miriam (Stevenson) Breckenridge, 78 Year crowned: 1954 "Sometimes I felt myself trying to live it down, because you don't want to be thought of just as the beauty queen. People only remember me for being Miss USA and Miss Universe even all these years later." Photographed on June 18, 2011.Susan Anderson for TIME
Myrna Hansen, 75 Year crowned: 1953 "At that time, you didn't dare put any pads in your bathing suit, but now I look around and see silicone everywhere. I don't think young people need silicone any place, any time anywhere. It's what you do with what you've got that counts." Photographed on June 18, 2011.Susan Anderson for TIME
Terry Lynn (Huntingdon) Tydings, 71 Year crowned: 1959 "In my era, we had Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe, and Jayne Mansfield. Beauty was a voluptuous woman back then." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Marite Ozers, 67 Year crowned: 1963 "The Miss America pageant was giving out scholarships, and I'm the third-oldest of nine children, so that sounded good. I didn't think I'd be accepted at Miss America because I was a naturalized American from Latvia. Because Miss USA was connected to Miss Universe, I thought they'd be more broad-minded." Photographed on June 18, 2011.Susan Anderson for TIME
Bobbi (Johnson) Kauffman, 66 Year crowned: 1964 "We weren't into fitness. We didn't think about it. And we didn't wear anything revealing. Our swimsuits had the skirt that hit right in the widest part of the thigh. We had a very natural look. We did wear false eyelashes. But that was the only false thing we had." Photographed on June 18, 2011.Susan Anderson for TIME
Sue (Downey) Olsen, 66 Year crowned: 1965 On her whirlwind ascent to the crown: "One night I went to a restaurant in downtown Columbus, Ohio, to compete in Miss Columbus. I won, and the same week they sent me to Cleveland for Miss Ohio. Three weeks later, I was on my first airplane ride to Miami Beach to compete for Miss USA." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Sylvia (Hitchcock) Carson, 65 Year crowned: 1967 "One of my art professors had a fit when I left college to compete in Miss USA. He later said, 'Sylvia, you gave up something real for something artificial.' I said, 'You don't understand the doors that have opened for me as Miss USA. They've already sent my artwork to California for a show. I will be going to places that are unreal.'" Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Wendy (Dascomb) Bryan, 61 Year crowned: 1969 "It was the hippie era. I didn't wear makeup and I had very long hair. I was a feminist and felt very strongly about that. The pageant hated me because I was very outspoken about the Vietnam War and about women's rights. They thought I should be perfect and have scripted answers. I was a real rebel." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Tanya (Wilson) Condello, 61 Year crowned: 1972 On losing Miss America and then subsequently winning Miss USA: "Losing gave me a great perspective on how subjective this business is. For most of us Miss USA winners, if we think about whether we were the prettiest or the best, the answer is that we were the luckiest that day. Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Karen (Morrison) Comstock, 55 Year crowned: 1974 "When I look in the mirror and I've put on a couple of pounds, I wonder what people will think. It comes from the training. You're trained, don't eat this, don't eat that. That voice is still back there in my mind." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Barbara (Peterson) Burwell, 57 Year crowned: 1976 On going on to become a Miss USA judge: "The interview is a make or break. As a judge you look for honesty, a certain worldliness, a sense the contestant knows herself, her state and her world. I don't expect her to be the head of the energy department but she should be aware that there's an energy crisis." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Kimberly Tomes, 55 Year crowned: 1977 On life after winning the title: "In business and in relationships it's been a curse. You don't know if a man wants to date you because he likes who you are or he wants to say, 'I'm dating a former Miss USA.'" Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Judi (Anderson) Harrison, 52 Year crowned: 1978 On how she got into pageants: "Someone followed me around at party and told me I had a beautiful smile and that I should try out for Miss Hawaii USA. He was a dentist. Back then, it was, what you see is what you get. I didn't have a coach or someone to tell me what to wear or what to say. I wore a muumuu type dress with leis that my mom had designed." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Jineane (Ford) King, 50 Year crowned: 1980 "Since being Miss USA I've been a news anchor for 22 years for NBC in Phoenix. My past news directors didn't want it mentioned that I was a Miss USA. It's been kind of tough, but it's the very thing that gets you in the door." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Terri (Utley) Amos-Britt, 49 Year crowned: 1982 "My mother had been Miss West Tennessee Strawberry Queen. She didn't push me into pageants, but she encouraged me. I lived in a town of 4,000 people in Arkansas. The reason I went into the Miss Arkansas pageant is because I wanted opportunities that weren't being given in Arkansas. In my heart, I really wanted to move to LA, but I didn't know how to get there. Miss USA took me there." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Julie Lynne Hayek, 50 Year crowned: 1983 On the qualities judges should look for in a Miss USA: "You have to get along with people. You're put in a lot different circumstances and you have to be able to handle yourself -- and not get arrested. It's a reputation business, so it's important to find someone who can uphold that. We are role models." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Gretchen Polhemus, 46 Year crowned: 1989 "In Texas, a lot of people do pageants. It's like a career. You go to all these different specialists to train. I went to this gentlemen who specializes in teaching girls to walk downstairs in heels. He's a man! He would get on his tip-toes and go down the stairs really fast. I also went to a makeup artist who slapped 15 shades of purple on my eyelids. I'm hoping things are different now." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Carole (Gist) Stramler, 42 Year crowned, 1990 On being the first black Miss USA: "Everything I had was borrowed because I didn't have a lot of money. I went into the pageant being told that everyone from the southern states would come with trunk loads of things and change their clothes a few times a day. The haves and the have-nots was more of an issue for me than black and white." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Shannon Marketic, 40 Year crowned: 1992 "I won strictly off the interview. I had the worst swimsuit scores, the worst evening gown scores. I had a hideous dress, hideous hair. I was a hot mess. In the interview I was asked what I was looking for in a mate, and I said, 'Someone who's mastered the art of monogamy.' It was just truthful. That's what got me to the next level." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Kenya Moore, 40 Year crowned: 1993 On being one of the first black Miss USAs: "I have dark skin and I'm a voluptuous woman. I'm so grateful I was recognized for that. There are a lot of little girls who grow up not thinking they're pretty because they're black or don't have thin noses or hair down their backs. It's such an honor to be able to be an example that tells them they are beautiful." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Chelsi (Smith) Blair, 37 Year crowned: 1995 "In the US, pageants aren't as a big a deal as they are abroad. We love actors, athletes, musicians, and reality stars, but beauty queens, not so much. So it's like, where do you go from there? When that reign is over, it's like being the first runner-up and being pushed away. You have this glory that's been with you for a year, and it's gone." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Shanna Lynn Moakler, 36 Year crowned: 1995 On being the director of state pageants: "I don't like the word pageant, it's a dirty word. When you hear pageant you think 'Toddlers and Tiaras.' My kids compete and they have a lot of fun. I'm trying to bring people a modern, new sleek show with high fashion. I don't want people to think of 'Toddlers and Tiaras' when they think of pageantry. I'm trying to reinvent the word." (Moakler assumed the Miss USA title when Chelsi Smith, the first Miss USA 1995, went on to win Miss Universe.) Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Brandi Sherwood, 37 Year crowned: 1997 On winning pageants: "It's like being on a train that won't stop. It's all going so fast. At Miss Teen USA, I was sort of hyperventilating toward the end. It's an out-of-body experience that you reflect back on." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Brook Lee, 40 Year crowned: 1997 "At Miss Universe, the question they asked was, 'If you had no rules, what would you do?' Donald Trump's then-policy was that the reigning Miss Universe would be held to a weight clause in her contract. I looked right at Trump and I said that I would eat everything in the world and I would eat it twice. The whole crowd went crazy." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Kimberly Pressler, 34 Year crowned: 1999 On plastic surgery in beauty pageants: "Do I think women should do it just to get into a pageant? Absolutely not. In a lot of the other countries, if they don't do plastic surgery, it's actually frowned upon because they're looking for perfection. But in the modeling world, the imperfections are the things that stand out. Perfect is boring." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Kandace Krueger, 35 Year crowned: 2001 On her weirdest beauty trick: "When I was competing, I heard about the whole hemorrhoid-cream thing [which is supposed to be slimming]. At Miss Texas, I would rub hemorrhoid cream on my thighs and wrap it in Saran Wrap overnight." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Shandi Fennessey, 33 Year crowned: 2004 On her pre-Miss USA eating habits: "I was on the most bizarre diet. My dad swears I kept Tyson Chicken in business. For breakfast I had a chicken breast, three egg whites, a sweet potato, snow peas and a grapefruit. Three hours later, at the gym, I had another sweet potato and a chicken breast. Then I would come home and have a head of Romaine lettuce and two cans of tuna. Two hours later, another chicken breast. And for dinner, another chicken breast and snow peas." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Chelsea Cooley, 27 Year crowned: 2005 "When you sign up for a state pageant and you start falling in line with what you have to do, it's like having a second job. You have to be physically fit, so you train every day or every other day. You schedule meetings for interview practice, for walking, for wardrobe fitting. It teaches you how to be organized and how to be a leader. " Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Rachel Smith, 26 Year crowned: 2007 On being a child beauty queen: "I can't imagine what it would be like being a kid and wearing as much makeup as I have on right now. That's ridiculous. If a kid wants to do pageants or soccer or violin lessons, let them do it. But I think parents can take things to an extreme. I'm sure [some people on the show] Toddlers and Tiaras do that. It's a shame because it puts pageants in such a negative light." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Kristen Dalton, 24 Year crowned: 2009 On her post-Miss USA life: "I can't believe it's been a year, it feels like forever. I feel a lot more confident and peaceful with who I am now. I used to always try to impress other people and be perfect. And now I'm just like, you're going to get what I give. I'm comfortable with the bad parts of me and the good parts." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME
Rima Fakih, 25 Year crowned: 2010 On how people react to her looks: "Before, I never thought of myself as beautiful. I was comfortable in my own skin and I thought I was blessed. But people do treat you differently, like you're not smart or high maintenance or not nice. They assume these things. When you add a sash on top of that -- you wouldn't believe the questions I hear. People ask if I'm mean." Photographed on June 18, 2011. Susan Anderson for TIME

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at