But the girls say what does not kill them only makes them stronger.
Singaporean finalist Tricia Koh, a 24-year-old financial adviser, told The Sunday Times: “They say we learn from the pain, I say we gain from it.”
Ms Koh added that it is easy to make such comments under the cloak of anonymity that the Internet provides. “(But) it takes a lot of courage for a girl to go up on stage and let people judge her.”
She was among 16 of the 19 finalists who came under scrutiny by netizens last Tuesday, when an unofficial photo of them at a Miss Singapore Beauty Pageant event was posted. The girls, selected from a total of 60 applicants, were dubbed “ugly” and “repulsive”.
Ms Koh said she expected people to criticise her physical aspects when she joined the pageant but, like the other finalists, did not expect such a backlash.
Another finalist, Lasalle College of the Arts student Christina Cai, 18, said: “You were not there and you did not see us in action and you want to say that we are not talented or smart? It’s immature.”
Ms Cai joined the pageant, that has been running for 29 years, because she wanted a new experience and thought it would help her grow.
She credited her family and friends for being her pillars of support. “Honestly, I don’t know what I would do without them.”
ITE College East student and finalist Queenie Sia, 17, said beauty is skin deep. “It’s about having a good heart and a good personality.”
The unofficial photo was taken by a member of the public when the pageant was doing a talent and fashion showcase at One KM mall.
Miss Universe Singapore 2016 Cheryl Chou understands what the finalists are going through.
An athletic woman, she was called “big” by some netizens.
Said the 21-year-old student: “I am happy being myself and that is all that matters.”
Ms Chou advised the girls to pay no heed to what others are saying.
“You are not in control of the way people feel or think… so always be positive, optimistic and never give up,” she said.
Meanwhile, former Miss Universe Singapore 2002 Nuraliza Osman, 40, said beauty is highly subjective and there will always be negative criticism when pageant contestants step into the limelight.
Said the national director of Miss Universe Singapore: “It takes so much for a girl to get on that stage and there is no need to be so mean. If this was your sister or your cousin, would you say these things?”
She noted that the judging panel for the Miss Universe Singapore pageant, in which the local winner goes on to represent Singapore in the Miss Universe pageant, includes former title holders, sponsors, fashion editors, physical trainers and make-up artists. In contrast, the Miss Singapore Beauty Pageant finalists were selected by a committee made up of former title holders only.
The pageant will yield four winners under different titles, who will then go on to represent Singapore internationally under each title. The titles are: Miss Singapore Tourism Queen, Miss Singapore Chinatown, Miss Singapore Global Beauty Queen and Miss Grand Singapore.
Some have questioned if organiser ERM Singapore Marketing should have prepared the girls better for a public appearance.
Said artist management company founder Desmond Charles, 39: “I would think that it’s the duty (of the organisers) to make sure the girls are up to standard before they make a public appearance.”
However, Ms Cai thinks beauty goes beyond what people see in a photo. “I think people are the most beautiful when they are doing what they love.”