It does not take talent or brains, nor a desire for World Peace to win this beauty pageant. Looking good in a swimsuit and striking a sexy pose are the criteria for judging the 12 girls competing for Sugar Baby of the Year.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a “sugar baby” is loosely defined as a young person who offers companionship in exchange for financial security. The successful counterpart, who is typically much older, is known as a “sugar daddy” or “sugar mama.”
Are they escorts? No. Are they gold diggers? Maybe. Are they having a better time than you are? Most definitely.
Sugar babies indulge in the finest luxuries without ever spending a dime. They are arm candy to the world’s elite in tech, finance, and politics—and they do it on their own terms.
“I’ve received cash. I’ve received clothing, heels, bikinis, and even gift cards,” Melissa, Miss July (each contestant represents one month on the calendar), told The Daily Beast. “A lot of them just want to treat you and send you nice things.”
The dynamic of a wealthy benefactor paired with a pretty young thing has been a fairly common courtship pattern for centuries. But the formalized roles of sugar babies and sugar daddies has come to rub mainstream society the wrong way, seeming a little too close to the highly stigmatized prostitution industry.
Yet, over the past few years, sugar babies have increasingly found their way into headlines and television plot lines.
Last month, Lifetime aired their original movie Sugar Babies, which follows fictional college student Katie Woods as she grapples with letting a much older businessman pay for a study-abroad trip to Florence.
Just this summer, New York City hosted the country’s first Sugar Baby Summit. It offered classes on how to be a sugar baby from beginner to expert levels, along with Q&A panels with experienced babies and a sugar daddy mixer.
For good reason, sugar babies are studying up. Some of the best are reportedly making $60,000+ a year solely from their relationships.
But there’s stiff competition among sugar babies. Seeking Arrangement boasts a reported eight sugar babies for every sugar daddy, which means there are way more options for the beneficiaries who provide lavish vacations, pricey clothes, and five-star meals.
There’s a reason that the 12 women competing for the pristine title of Sugar Baby of the Year put themselves on display: They need the exposure.
Without a leg up on the site, many of the sugar babies can get lost in the sea of possibilities. But when they stand out, it counts in a big way.
“Now, I wake up and have like 500 emails,” Melissa said of the influx in attention she’s gotten since the competition launched in July.
With the exposure from the Sugar Baby of the Year competition, these women are all but guaranteed to be sought by paid subscribers around the world.
And sugar babies are only too happy to travel for their benefactors—in fact, that may be a top goal.
“You should vote for me because I want to win that money for traveling,” Hailee, Miss April, writes in her profile.
“My next stop is Vegas, then Miami, and NYC. Will you help me fund my next adventure?” she asks before telling voters (and potential sugar daddies) to “make me an offer I can’t refuse and I might just become yours!”
When I speak to some of the sugar baby contestants in person, they are not nearly as vapid sounding as Miss April. None of them named a chance at scoring a “sugar daddy” as her hope or goal in the competition.
In fact, they offer a remarkably rosy and even empowering picture of life as a sugar baby.
Admittedly, the women who choose to participate in Sugar Baby of the Year are a self-selecting bunch and, thus, are far more likely to speak positively of the sugar baby life.
Still, they offer a different and enlightening perspective. They don’t solely want material gains, such as jewelry, shoes, and vacations. Instead, they want “notoriety,” “exposure” and even “mentors.”
Melissa, whose grandmother suggested she join the website, has a slight resemblance to Kim Kardashian and could serve fantasies to thousands of wealthy men. But at the moment, she’s focused on getting her real estate license after meeting an “inspirational” man on Seeking Arrangement.
“He’s a commercial real estate investor and I met him last year,” Melissa told The Daily Beast. “It was something that I was always interested in but never did it, so I decided to go to school for it. There are a lot of real estate investors on that site so I was like ‘Great! I’m going to pick all of your brains!’”
Growing up, Melissa was both “shy” and “rebellious.” She left public school to be taught from home and dropped out of her university after a personal tragedy left her devastated.
The man she met on Seeking Arrangement “really inspired me to get into real estate and back in school,” she said.
What few realize is that the sugar daddies don’t just provide for their sugar babies monetarily. The dynamic offers a potential layer of mentoring for the younger individual.
“A lot of these guys haven’t been married or have been divorced,” Jenna said. “They’re probably a little bit lonely and they are just looking for an honest friendship. There is definitely a sexual aspect to it, but that’s an aspect in almost all relationships that aren’t friendships.”
Jenna, who is studying communication sciences and disorders at a university on the East Coast, was a freshman when she learned about Seeking Arrangement through a friend.
She confessed that she has always had an attraction to older men. In high school, she had a lengthy relationship with a man over twice her age. Thus, when it came time to pay her tuition, turning to Seeking Arrangement seemed like the ideal situation for her.
“I’m just being a full-time student,” she told The Daily Beast. “I don’t really have time to date or an interest in dating. This is just helping me pay my way through school.”
Now, not only is she paying her tuition, she’s also gained job opportunities and apprenticeships from the men she has met.
In 2013, Georgia State had the highest number of students logging on to Seeking Arrangement. New York University came in at number two. Prestigious universities, like Columbia, Cornell, and UCLA, also had prominent activity.
“It’s not something that everyone accepts, but I think over time it will become more accepted in our culture,” said Jenna. “It’s definitely popular among my age group and I see sugar babies all the time with older men.”
Sugar daddies may not be as common a feature on college campus as red Solo cups and ramen. However, with the rising cost of higher education, they just might be soon.