Especially, in a day and age when we talk about gender rights in the most radical ways

Miss Teen USA gets rid of swimsuits time beauty pageants themselves are stoppedRepresentational Image/ Filmitadka via Wikipedia Commons
Voices Monday, July 04, 2016 - 14:22

In a major development in the beauty pageant circuit, The Miss Teen USA, decided to do away with the swimsuit round from this year’s edition.

“To celebrate women’s strength, confidence and beauty”, President of Miss Teen USA pageant Paula Shugart on Wednesday announced that the competition will do away with the quintessential swimsuit round.

Shugart made this announcement stating that the decision reflects an “important cultural shift we’re all celebrating that empowers women who lead active, purposeful lives and encourage those in their communities to do the same.”

This move is being appreciated by many as a positive step against objectification of women, but it is hardly going to make a dent in an industry which thrives on the insecurities of individuals with a disproportionate burden of it imposed on women, and it starts very early. For instance, the Miss Teen USA, is a title that girls aged 14-19 years compete for.

The contestants will continue to be judged at least partly if not fully, on how they look as they parade before the audience and judges on grounds of preconceived notions of ‘beauty’.  

“Beauty contests help in continuing gender stereotypes, women: look good for men, men: please continue to expect your partners to look like this and if she doesn’t, remind her that if these women can look like this, so can she if she only put in a little effort into what she looks like,” says Angelyn Singh, Research Officer, Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre.

Moreover, she points out how the Q&A rounds are rather more damaging than a more balancing act as contestants are often asked questions on topics which they are likely to be little informed about. They are systematically made subjects of ridicule.

Bikinis or not, feminists in the West have always spoken against beauty pageants which originated in their cultures, as these events create the idea that beauty can be standardised, and because they perpetuate the notion women are visual objects meant to gratify the ‘male gaze’.

Both these ideas directly militate against women’s emotional and physical well-being in myriad ways. By the same token, the notion of ideal ‘women’ is drilled into the minds of boys and men.

While these events have social effects, they are primarily guided by monetary considerations. As a matter of fact, the first ever modern day beauty pageant, Miss America in 1921 was organised by an Atlantic City businessmen with an attempt to garner tourist attraction.

In India, which has one of the biggest markets for fairness creams, there is at least a conversation about skin colour and beauty. Some of the most prominent celebrities have spoken against skin whitening creams publicly and even organized campaigns with beauty being black as their themes.

While we aren’t very close to demanding an outright end to beauty pageants, there have been attempts to engage with at least the colour / community aspect of it.

The recently held Miss India contest had 21 contestants but a very narrow representation of India’s diverse ethnicities.

A Quartz story, reported that there were no dark-skinned women among the 21 contestants (at least going by their photographs). Moreover, there were none from the southern states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala or Andhra Pradesh and north-eastern states of Manipur, Nagaland, and Mizoram.

In a day and age when we talk about gender rights in the most radical ways, it is time to lower the curtains on the world’s and India’s self-serving beauty police.

(Note: The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the author)

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