Eighty-five beauty pageant winners from around the world have descended upon the Bahamas in the hope of being crowned Miss Universe 2009 on Sunday. But did this weekend's winner look like she does now even a few months ago? And will she look the same when she hands over her multi-million dollar tiara this time next year?
FOXNews.com talked to former pageant winners, pageant officials, and doctors who say surgical enhancements are par for the course at many pageants, and keeping one's pageant-perfect physique post-competition can be next to impossible.
A source close to the Donald Trump-owned Miss Universe Organization tells FOXNews.com that not only is elective surgery allowed, but it is quietly encouraged. "In many of the countries, from the time she wins (the national title) to the time she goes to Miss Universe, she basically goes through a witness protection program, she is sketched up, and totally changed," the insider said.
"Several of the Miss USA winners also get surgery done outside of the office knowing," the source adds. "Everyone has an excuse like ‘my uncle died’ or ‘I have family issues’ and go away and get something done even after they win. I don’t get it; if it was good enough to win don’t mess with the formula. The responsibility of the title messes with girls' heads."
According to the Miss Universe website, contestants can use needles, sponges and scalpels to better their chances of winning. "Although contestants are discouraged from altering their own natural beauty, no restrictions are placed on cosmetic surgery; it is impossible to enforce such a rule," the Miss Universe Organization website states. "In fact, since 1990, the organization has allowed padding in an effort to discourage participants from permanently altering their bodies for the competition."
But sometimes padding just isn’t enough. The state directors for Miss USA first runner-up/ dethroned Miss California Carrie Prejean told FOXNews.com that they funded her breast implants prior to the competition. Prejean did not confirm nor deny this.
According to Keith Lewis, who runs Miss California USA, and has been a high-profile pageant judge for 15 years, an estimated 15 percent of the Miss USA hopefuls have undergone either breast augmentation or rhinoplasty as part of their contest preparation. Lewis said statistics are probably a little higher for the Miss Universe competition, he estimates around 30 percent of contestants. He also estimates 10 percent of Miss Teen USA state titleholders opt for elective surgery.
The reigning Miss Universe, 23-year-old Dayana Mendoza from Venezuela, has stayed mum on whether or not she had any surgery. "Asking me that is like asking a woman her age," Mendoza said when a reporter asked if she had had any work done before winning last year’s competition.
There also appears to be a trend among Asian pageant contestants to go for a more "Westernized" look with such procedures as double eyelid surgery, says one expert. "If you look at the last few years of contestants, the winner or at least the runner up, they do not have the classic Japanese or Chinese look. They all have a hybrid look," said Bruce Chau, D.O., FACOS, a Detroit based Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon who specializes in double eyelid surgery, which has become increasingly popular among those of Asian descent. "It is not the Westernized look, but the AmerAsian or EuroAsian look. This tends to be what Asians overseas want."
But keeping one's shape, be it natural or surgically enhanced, can be a battle as well. "We all put on weight after, it’s kind of part of gig," Miss USA-turned-Universe 1997, Brook Lee, told FOXNews.com. "At competition level, weight is ridiculous because everyone is working out so hard and watching everything they eat. Then, when you win, you’re traveling and you can’t workout religiously anymore."
And even though pageant owner Donald Trump referred to 2004’s Jennifer Hawkins as "the best and most beautiful Miss Universe we’ve ever had," the Australian stunner also admitted that along with the life of a pageant princess came problematic pound-packing. "It is really hard to maintain a healthy lifestyle," Hawkins told Tarts. "I did gain weight. I knew I would — it's hard not to. You have to eat a lot of different foods because sometimes it can be insulting to a culture if you don’t. It is also hard to exercise on the road, and plane food is a killer for maintaining weight."
Miss Universe 2006 Zuleyka Rivera received harsh coverage in Puerto Rico for being "too fat" during her reign, and 1996 winner Alicia Machado from Venezuela also came under fire when it was reported that she may be stripped of her sash and replaced by the first runner-up due to a prominent weight gain.
After being placed on a stringent diet and fitness regime, she was allowed to stay on. However, her not-so-sympathetic boss Mr. Trump still referred to her in the press as an "eating machine" and insisted that titleholders have an "obligation to stay in a perfect physical state."