Saartje Langstraat

“It’s all about confidence”

True beauty comes from within. That’s not exactly what you would associate with beauty contests, where it seems to be all about appearances. But to win, you don’t just have to look perfect. Saartje Langstraat (21), the Miss Beauty Netherlands from 2021 gives insight into the world of pageants and how participating has changed her perspective on beauty.

Story by Jana Prochazka

How do you actually win a beauty contest? Is it really all about good looks?
No, of course not. There are specific types of girls that each pageant is aiming for. Miss Earth is a pageant for women who are committed to protecting the environment. It also depends on your overall presentation and the quality of your social media presence. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have but you need to be visible. The pageant organisation works with this girl for a year until the next person is crowned. Therefore, it’s important that the organisation knows that they can rely on you as someone they can work with professionally. It’s a kind of PR and you have to be really good at it.

What did you learn about true beauty from participating?
Beauty is interesting. I haven’t felt beautiful most of my life. I was always a bit of an outsider. I was weird and I never thought I could be the person doing all these shoots. But there’s a saying: Any woman can be beautiful. If you look at the models on the catwalk, some of them have features that you wouldn’t expect to be beautiful, like a huge nose or a skin condition. And that’s a perfect example of how confidence and embodying who you truly are radiates beauty. It’s all about confidence.

If you really want to change the beauty standards, it has to be from the top down.

That’s what we learn in the training as well. If you walk into the room with your head up high and you are not afraid to show yourself, people will perceive you as more beautiful. So, fake it till you make it.

Do you feel like you have to fit in with any beauty ideals to win the contest, such as being tall and thin?
Yes. There are beauty ideals in pageants, but they are far more accepting than in the modelling industry. In pageants, it is okay to have some curves and a more feminine body. I was very thin when I first participated but I could not gain any weight because of my fast metabolism. Moving into a new kind of beauty ideal, I was insecure about my body, and I thought: Oh, I also want boobs and curves. I talked to a catwalk trainer about that and he said, it’s all about the way you walk. By walking in a certain way, you can have bigger breasts or wider hips. You can work with your body.

Is there something you would like to change about beauty pageants?
I would love pageants to be more diverse. At Miss Earth USA for example, there was a lot of diversity. One girl was in a wheelchair, that is a step in the right direction, but because Miss Earth is an Asian pageant there are certain beauty standards, like being thin. If you want The Netherlands to perform well, you must send an appropriate candidate. Therefore, the Dutch winner is usually skinnier. If you really want to change the beauty standard, it has to be from the top down. The whole organisation of pageants must be open to more diversity before something can change permanently.

What do you do on days when you don’t feel confident about yourself?
I put on a different outfit, wash my face and do some self-care. I try any kind of serotonin boost I can get, maybe bake a cake. We are all tired sometimes and it’s not like we are superwomen. Usually, the solutions have nothing to do with beauty, but people forget how important self-care is. Beauty is not the number one priority. The most important thing is that you feel good and that you find pleasure in what you do in life.

Saartje started modelling when she was 16 years old. | Picture: Saartje Langstraat