Psychology student studies beauty pageant contestants

By Costa Maragos Posted: July 4, 2016 6:00 a.m.

Annora Bourgeault has graduated from the U of R with an honours degree in Psychology. Her research was presented recently at the Honours Symposium hosted by the Department of Psychology.
Annora Bourgeault has graduated from the U of R with an honours degree in Psychology. Her research was presented recently at the Honours Symposium hosted by the Department of Psychology. Photo by Rae Graham - U of R Photography

Annora Bourgeault is in some exclusive company. The honours psychology student is one of the few who has won a national beauty pageant. In her case, Bourgeault was crowned Miss World Canada 2014 and competed in the Miss World 2014. Bourgeault has used her experience to research the motivation of adult women in pageantry. She presented her findings recently at the Department of Psychology’s annual Honours Symposium held on campus. We talked to Annora about her research.

Tell us more about what your research is all about?

Miss Canada Annora
Annora Bourgeault gets the crown as Miss World Canada 2014. She also competed at Miss World 2014 held in London, UK.

My Project was all about what motivates adult women to compete in pageantry. And the reason I chose it is my personal experience as a pageantry contestant. When I looked into it there was really no research done on pageant contestants.

They never used pageant contestants to inform any research. So it’s all very opinion based and tends to be negative and slighted.  So I used sport motivation as a basis for my research and I found that pageant contestants tend to operate more from autonomous and intrinsic motivation.  

What do you mean by autonomous?

That means they’re doing it for reasons of self development and they’re doing it out of their own volition and that someone else isn’t influencing their decision to do this. And I also found that  autonomous and intrinsic motivation correlated with success rates, persistence and enjoyment.

So these women are enjoying their experience and the more autonomously motivated they are the more persistent they are. Autonomous means they are doing it for themselves. It’s not because their community is telling them to or their parents are expecting them to. It’s because they want to do it for their own purposes.

You say there are a lot of negative connotations associated with those who enter beauty pageants. What do you mean by that?

A lot of the research I found tended to be about how pageants adversely affect body image and can increase eating disorders among the population and the contestants themselves. So, most of the research was focussed on that. I also found research that was anthropological in nature.

So there is research out there that looked at pageants across different cultures and found similarities. But there was nothing to really investigate why pageant contestants continue to participate given how controversial the topic is.

From your research, what type of person enters these beauty pageants?

Of my participants, 69 per cent have completed an undergraduate degree or diploma which is exactly the Canadian national average. However 61 per centhope to one day complete a graduate degree and  19 per cent already have completed a graduate degree -  a great difference compared to the less than one per cent of Canadians who have a graduate degree.

So I think that is a huge testament to the aspirations of the type of people that compete in pageantry which is completely contrary to how the media portrays them.

Based on your research, what’s your message about those who choose to compete in beauty pageants?
The message is to look a little bit harder. It’s not necessarily all about looking good in an evening gown.These women are contributing to the community. They’re educated and they want to help and that’s why they’re competing in this type of thing.

Personally it was a  way to grow as a person and develop so many skills. My public speaking skills, my confidence, they  have all  allowed me to grow to a more mature woman who is able to convey my opinions.   

What happens to your research results now?

The study will serve as a foundation for further research into pageantry motivation. It will provide an informed source of information in the area of pageantry, a highly stigmatised activity.

Annora Bourgeault graduated from the U of R with an honours degree in psychology and a minor in anthropology. She will do her master’s in psychology at McGill University in Montreal, beginning September, 2016.