This year more than 3,000 people applied for Miss West Coast, the WA leg of the Miss Universe competition.
The beauty pageant involves young women competing while promoting health and beauty products, practising public speaking, and attending cocktail parties.
There is a concern the competition is lacking representation of women exceeding a size eight.
UWA School of Social Sciences senior honorary fellow Krishna Sen says the promotion of this particular body type is toxic and harmful.
“The problem is that these unrealistic body images are commonly valorised right across our cultural products, which emphasises the normative nature of only certain bodies being acceptable,” she says.
One of the 30 WA state finalists of the Miss West Coast competition Julia Lawrence says this experience has improved her confidence and opened her up to new friendships.
“It’s such a massive honour to be a part of this team. It’s been so much fun, and the girls are all so supportive and welcoming,” she says.
Ms Lawrence says contrary to what is portrayed through their social media, Miss West Coast is an inclusive environment regardless of size.
Alongside teeth whiteners, hair products, and pyjamas, one of the products sent to the contestants to promote on their social media accounts is a “meal replacement powder”.
ECU nutrition lecturer Dr Claus Christophersen says one of the problems with these products is that many of them are not backed by substantial clinical trials.
“In order to improve general health, we need to get back to consuming regular whole foods instead of having something that is highly processed,” he says.
Dr Christophersen says although these are not new products, he is concerned about them being aimed at teenagers.
“As a community we need to ensure young people don’t think this is a normal way of consuming the required daily nutrients,” he says.
Exercise physiologist Courtnee Dewhurst agrees we need to consider the long-term impacts on marketing supposed health products to young people.
“I think advertising liquid meal replacements to get down to the ‘ideal’ size six body type is a dangerous concept,” she says.
Professor Sen says meal replacement powders aren’t necessarily bad and we can’t blame women for being influenced to buy them.
“If followed with medical guidance, consuming these powders might not be an issue,” she says.