What do I think about beauty pageants? When I think of what I know of beauty pageant history and old school beauty pageants, I feel it’s silly to have a contest to determine which woman is the most beautiful. I’m opposed to that on so many levels it’s difficult to enumerate them, but I’ll at least give it a shot.
Only women? Really? Beautiful? By what standards? Does this take into account all of the myriad ways a person, a woman, can be beautiful? Prejudices based on race, ethnicity, home language, country of origin, ability or disability?
But when I think to their origins, I also must consider a society that severely curtailed how, when, and where women could express themselves and how women could be appreciated (at least publicly) for the amazing people that they were. I don’t give old school beauty pageants a complete pass, but I do understand.
Additionally, I don’t want to denigrate the effort that goes into health and fitness. Beauty isn’t just about rolling out of bed looking amazing (fortunately for me). Part of beauty (at least in these contexts/contests) is physical fitness. Putting in the work to have a healthy body is laudable. Where I think we often go wrong as a society is determining that healthy bodies can only look like certain preconceived notions, when in fact, healthy bodies can look a variety of ways. Thin doesn’t necessarily equal healthy, nor does curvy necessarily indicate poor health (again, fortunately for me).
Ah, but what do I think about competitions such as Miss Universe and Miss America, what many people term modern day beauty pageants? Well, here my answer differs. Or maybe it doesn’t.
Both the Miss Universe and Miss America organizations provide opportunities for women to forward the platforms of their choosing. What a powerful opportunity to make an impact in the world. And furthermore, the Miss America organization offers numerous scholarships to women who many not have otherwise had the funding to pursue their educational aspirations.
I suppose I don’t mind the world of pageants, if that is the world these women are choosing for themselves. I love the idea of the empowerment narrative that can be told on the pageant circuit, but I find it so difficult to separate that narrative from the one of males determining what women should do, and how women should be perceived, with the relentless undercurrent of objectification. I have a hard time reconciling these two competing ideas that seem to me should be mutually exclusive.
Then again, maybe that’s why I’ve never personally been interested in the pageant world; I can’t make sense of it in my brain. But to those who can parse the good from the bad without having an existential crisis, more power to you, my sisters. Rock your platforms. Earn your scholarships. Make the world better in your own way.
Because that’s all any of us can do, really.