"Beauty is only skin deep. All girls are beautiful, inside and out."*
But some girls are more beautiful on the outside than others. And that's why beauty contests exist.
*Actually, this is a lie. Some girls are, unfortunately, ugly, whether on the inside or on the outside. Some girls who are ugly on the outside are beautiful on the inside, and vice versa. It's important for girls to find positive aspects about themselves in order to fuel their confidence and self-esteem. But telling girls a hollow lie like that they're all beautiful only hurts them. It reinforces the belief that a girl must be beautiful in order to be worthwhile (i.e. that her value depends on her beauty), and is easily beaten by mean, hurtful comments.
I understand the positive intentions behind the "every girl is beautiful" mantra, but when a plain-looking girl tells herself "I am beautiful", and then some bitchy supermodel tells her she's ugly, there's a kernel of truth there, in that the plain-looking girl is NOT objectively and physically as beautiful as the supermodel, and she knows it, and that eats away at her self-confidence, because deep down she knows she's not the most beautiful girl in the world, no matter how much she tries to tell herself that.
Granted, beauty is largely a subjective quality - and it's important to temper one's ideas of 'objective beauty' with the knowledge that different people find different looks beautiful, and that if one person thinks you're ugly, it doesn't mean you're ugly, it just means that that person thinks you're ugly, and there is still a good chance someone else will think you're beautiful. But again, that's all that beauty contests are - a contest to see who is rated the most beautiful by the most people.
It's superficial - yes, absolutely. But people do judge other people by looks, and people love to rate other people's looks on a sliding scale; it's part of human nature. The solution to bolstering girls' self-esteem isn't to pretend like that doesn't happen, or that the people who do it are monsters. It's to reinforce the fact that beauty is truly only skin deep (unless we are talking about non-physical beauty, but then, talking about both at the same time, like the first line of this post, is contradictory and extremely confusing), and there are other qualities a person can have other than physical beauty (like kindness, intelligence, sensitivity, all sorts of different talents, athleticism, and so on) that make a person valuable.
As long as you focus on the fact that people are judged by their looks in some cases, you're feeding into the belief that judgment of looks is the only important factor in a person's worth, and that the only way to help girls who aren't particularly physically beautiful gain self-confidence is to patronize them and tell them they're just as beautiful as the supermodels who win beauty pageants, and then shout and scream at those same people who judge the beauty pageants and try to force everyone in the world to stop judging other people by looks, because that's the only way a plain-looking (let alone ugly) girl is going to have any confidence in herself, because, after all, the only value she could possibly have is her appearance, so the only way to boost her self-esteem is to stop reminding her that she's not as physically attractive as the supermodels of the world, right?
Puh-leeze. If you don't like beauty contests, then focus on the fact that there are prizes awarded for intelligence, or skill at any number of endeavors, athletic and otherwise, and that there are better rewards in life than winning a contest - like the love and companionship of friends who are good people who treat each other well, and finding who you are and pursuing your dreams in life. None of this requires that everyone in the world forget the basic fact of nature that some people are more physically beautiful than others, and getting in a huff about people judging others based on that quality only reinforces the idea that it's the most important thing in the world. So get over it. Please. For the good of girls everywhere.