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.
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.