Beauty pagents and the 3 most common misconceptions about them.

Given the recent rise in gender equality movements and the associated rise in new wave feminism, it is safe to say that opinions on the relevance of beauty pagents is a cause for much division.

As a current competitor and finalist for the Miss Sri Lanka Australia pagent, I hope to address some common misconceptions which may add perspective to this conversation.

Misconception #1. Beauty pagents focus solely/mostly on beauty – this one is not difficult to debunk. With Miss World eliminating the swimsuit round in favour of an activewear round and the Miss Universe pagent holding inverviews well before the swimsuit round, the focus is definitely less about what a woman looks like and more about who they are as an ambassador for women and their causes. 

Anyone who watches pagents know, all the competitors are matched in looks, so how does one pick a winner out of them all? One only has to quote a former winner and Miss Universe judge Susmita Sen. When asked who she is looking for as a winner she says:

“A 21st century woman who’s not apologetic about being beautiful. She has to enjoy it and be body confident. She takes pride in it, she inspires the world, and she does it by leading her life as an example. Its not superficial anymore”

Most pagent systems are quickly remaking their image as systems which focus on women as people and not just their physical attributes. There is a greater focus on previous charity work and community service done by the contestants. Miss World as an organisation has raised millions of dollars for charities since its inception.

Misconception #2 Beauty pagents propagate an unhealthy and unattainable standard of physical beauty

While this statement has truth in it till recent times, this image is definitely not reflective of current pagent attitudes. Take for example Canada’s representative for Miss Universe in 2016, Siera Bearchella who did not sport the lean and long look we are all used to. 

While social media and traditional media criticised and adviced her to lose weight, she stood as a symbol for positive body image by bringing the focus back to what the competition is really about. She also placed in the Top 10.

“This competition is more than what we look like. It’s about being comfortable with who we are, it’s about sharing a message that is important to us” 

In addition to this, the 2016 show was hosted by plus size model Ashley Graham, a clear indication that the pagent is allowing greater representations of women with different body types.

Misconception #3 : Beauty pagents demean women
At their best, pagents are a platform for women, celebrating their talents, supporting the causes they champion and providing youth with role models to look up to. At their worst, pagents may end up exploiting and hurting women who are desperate to win a title and the money and fame which comes with it. 

I will not deny that some pagent culture is toxic, but I do not blame the existence of pagents for it. The high pressure and high stakes environment of the pagent world simply makes it easier for organisations to exploit women and for contestants to be toxic each other. Opportunistic behaviour, insecurity and naivety will lead one to difficult circumstances whatever industry one works it.

However, there are many good systems which have lauched the careers of many women, whatever field they come from. The established pagents have always been about celebrating and supporting women. Take for example , Miss World, which one of the largest providers of scholarships in the world. 

I truly believe that beauty pagents are essentially a celebration of girls and women. We are all ambassadors for our countries and for other women all the time, at school, at work and in our communities. Signing up for a pagent simply means that you are choosing to openly become an ambassador and participate in a healthy competition where you can furthur your horizons. You will still remain an ambassador, long after the show ends and that’s where the real work of being a beauty queen starts.
– Y 

Advertisements

Identity crisis, social unrest and beauty pagents

“Don’t wear that dress to the temple, it’s a place of worship not a place to have a fashion show”

“Learn to respect our religious places at least. You show no respect for your culture”

“You’re a disgrace to our culture. I bet you’re only helping out at the temple to earn points for your pagent”

With these insults hurled at me, I get in my car and drive down to the local temple for some quiet and peace of mind. I have no pagent sash on me. I never intended to take it with me. 

Today, just like any other day, I was going to be just another helper at the temple. But today was different because I was going there after a long session of self talk.

Proponents of self-leadership place a huge importance of replacing dysfunctional self talk, beliefs and imagery with constructive thought patterns in order to boost performance. In order to replace old thought patterns, one must identify and interrogate first. That is exactly what I did.

I ended the self talk session with this idea: “One person’s idea of being Sri Lankan is not my idea of being Sri Lankan” and “This person’s ideas have distanced me from my own culture”.

I have often seeked refuge in churches, mosques and mandirs/kovils when I wished to experience peace of mind and a connection to something greater than me. Being the spiritual gypsie I am, this was liberating; having exchanges in my own way and my own time. 

I didn’t step into the Sri Lankan buddhist temples because of the discomfort and judgment one person would place. Judgements on my attire, my intention for visiting the temple and my faith in Buddhism itself.

Over time, my discomfort with one person’s criteria of being “Sri Lankan” translated into my own distorted views of Sri Lankans as a general group and cemented my outsider position to it all. 

Taking a look at the current political landscape of Sri Lanka, I can’t help seeing similarities between myself and the minorities there. Regardless of living and working in Sri Lanka, contributing to the social,  cultural and economic landscape there, our Muslim countrymen are considered less “Sri Lankan” than a Sinhalese person.

Being a finalist for the Miss Sri Lanka Australia pagent has made me think of all these things quite deeply. How can I be a representative for Sri Lanka when my cultural identity feels so fragile?

Well, I can take an empowering step and craft my own idea of being a Sri Lankan. I may be outspoken, opinionated , non-comformist but I have Sri Lankan blood in my veins. I may not be patriotic and support the majority views of rising rationalism but I am still Lankan. I may have left home, lived alone and that may not cater to the conservative sri lankan view but it does cater to the more liberal Sri Lankans. I may be tatted up and have regular urges to chop off my hair, but that hair is the only thing I share with my grandmother.

I came back from the temple at 2AM. During my stay, I didn’t feel like praying so I didn’t. I did something more enjoyable and fulfilling ; making flower arrangements with ladies aged 27 to 60, who were laughing loud, kind, accepting and as curious about me as I was about them. 

I would never have experienced this sort of community connection had I stayed away, my mind clouded by someone else’s ideas of how I should be. We all want to feel a sense of belonging, but we cannot feel it or extend our hand in friendship if we remain stuck in our outdated thought patterns.

Amen. 

French vibes, bold colours 

Shoot ideas originate in one of two ways:

1. Instant concept download into your brain.

OR

2. A concept with is brought together with a lot of thought and only makes sense when the final images come through. 

This shoot was definitely the second case scenario. My sister’s room has a small bedside table full to the brim with cosmetics. I wanted to see what colours she had and began picking out and mixing the ones I liked. One pile was a pale shimmery baby blue, rose pink and gold toned powders- it reminded me of the French Revolution queen – Marie Antoinette especially as portraited in Sophia Coppolas film.

It’s hard to relate to the last Queen of France. Married at just 15, often portrayed as frivolous, out of touch with her subjects, convicted of incest and treason…it’s no surprise. However, there is no denying her love of colourful and dramatic clothes and I can definitely relate to that.
So that’s the look we went for; 18th century french inspired ,eccentric and theatrical. I chose the earrings as they resembled chandeliers, the word itself originating from the French “chandelle” or candle in the mid 18th century. Ladies in this period of time aimed to look as pale as possible, using white powder liberally to cover marks on their face left behind by smallpox. Little hearts , moons or other shapes were used to cover up marks which were still visible through the powder. Lips were small and shaped like rose – buds and cheeks were highlighted with very bright pink powder. In addition to all this, hair was also powdered, eyebrows plucked off and filled in with mouse hair (wow). We didn’t take things that far this time haha.

Hope you enjoyed this shoot!

On endings forced upon us.

I believe in the natural, inherent rhythm of things in our lives; highs, lows, beginnings and endings.

Each person on this planet has their own rhythm which dictates these patterns of change within their lives, but only if they let it. What I mean by this is that many of us can choose to adapt and follow the rules and rhythms which have been prescribed by society. 

A common prescription is: get an education, get a job, get married , have children and retire. This prescription does allow a familiar route for us to take, it is comfortable, validates us in the eyes of many and we can definitely be happy here.

I believe the lucky ones are the ones who have a pre-set route, are encouraged towards it by their family and peers and find the journey down the said route, truly fulfilling. The majority of us, have it the other way round – we know our purpose, it isn’t deemed favorable by our loved ones, we ignore it and take another suggested route. 

People are so varied, in their temperament,  tolerance levels and how often they check in with their heart’s calling. So it is not surprising that there is a subset of humans who can put their true purpose on the back burner and still lead happy lives. So now we’re left with a group of people who know what their purpose is, are not living it out and wake up everyday with a sense of being displaced from reality – because they are. The inner calling doesn’t reflectthe outer manifestation. 

I’m going to relate a common experience people in this last subset go through constantly: ignoring the need to end an endeavor which is hurting them because it is not serving them. This need is ignored because of a number of fears; fear of judgement, fear of admitting personal limitations, fear of asking for help, fear of starting over…it’s endless but it is all rooted in fear.

The entire point of this post is it to tell you: give it up already and admit that a change is in order. Personally, I never admit to the need until it’s too late and the end is forced on me – not fun. The present course of action doesn’t serve you if you are truly miserable, unable to maintain your health or sanity, don’t find the outcomes satisfying on a heart level and most importantly, if you are tolerating instead of embracing the experience. By a similar token, if the circumstances are tolerating rather than celebrating your involvement, it’s a good sign you’re not there for the right reasons.
So please do us (mostly yourself) a favor and make the necessary change. Before it is forced on you. Let’s take a common example: trying to quit smoking. It’s a difficult undertaking and it’s comfortable for most of us to not do anything about it. So the smoker and the ciggy maintain their toxic (but familiar and therefore, comfortable ) friendship, until a pulmonary test forces the smoker to accept the friendship has to end and he/she makes an admirable effort to quit. It doesn’t have to be a cigarette. It could be a job. A relationship.

I hope you figure it out in time. Goodluck.

P.S: Smoking is difficult to quit, I do understand, but it was a good example that many people could  relate to. Despite the many efforts to educate people on the evils of the ciggy, it doesn’t stop people from continuing the habit or even picking it up. This post is not meant to offend smokers. Thank you. Good day!

Tamilian vibes

img_20161106_170745

It was pure luck that me and my sister found this saree on a random op-shop trip. It cost us $10.25 and the combination of peach and olive green was a winner on my skin tone. Our previous cultural shoot was about the traditional dress of the Sinhalese ethnic group and it was only natural to do our take on the next biggest ethnic group.

Our aim was to highlight the things we love about the traditional dress of a Tamil lady. My sister took charge of the makeup, opting for red and brown tones for the eyes and finishing it off with kajal. We “stole” our mother’s gold jewelry, and although we are not partial to it, we can certainly see the appeal after this shoot.

img_20161106_172120

Ethnic differences can be considered internal differences, especially from an outsiders perspective. There are a lot more similarities between the Sinhalese and Tamil people than differences. Genetically, we all come from India (exactly where we don’t know) and if we really want to go back in time, all of us come from the African subcontinent.

However, the failure to identify and respect these internal differences of religion and culture, even in a simple photo shoot is an echo of the type of attitude which led to the civil war; a 30 year long dispute between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils.

We shot at the Kovil at Carrum Downs, Melbourne, starting off with a personal prayer asking for the blessings of Lord Ganesha (remover of obstacles) in our private attempt at bringing attention to Tamil culture, through our medium of clothes, makeup and photography. As our prayers came to a close, the sun shone brightly and the Sunday crowd lessened and we took our shots.

img_20161106_171545

NOTES:

Model – myself. Saree draping – also by myself and the neat drapes disappeared as the day went by. SIGH.