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Mirror mirror on the wall

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Beauty queens all over the world are admired by ardent fans. They have multi-million dollar endorsements from cosmetics, fashion and other retail industries. Youth follow their life-style closely and emulate each aspect to fit in.

These celebrities are put on a pedestal as the epitome of beauty for people to follow, which is a wonderful thing.

If we were to take a different view of such pageants and scratch beneath the surface, it tells a different and damning story.

One of the earliest instances of Miss America pageant, which is still in existence, was started in 1921 by an American businessman to entice tourists to Atlantic City, New Jersey. The thing to note here is that it was not to celebrate the female beauty, but a business proposition to make money off of women.

The Miss Universe pageant finds its roots from 1920 when C.E. Barfield of Galveston, Texas organized an event called ‘Splash Day’ and featured ‘Bathing Girl Revue’ competition as the centerpiece of its attractions. It was to kickoff the summer tourist season. Here as well, the intent was to profit by enticing people to see women in bathing suits. Not for some pure sense of beauty.

Some might call it a marketing ploy, while others would say it reeks of male chauvinism and profiteering.

The Miss Teen USA pageant started in 1983 is for the age group between 14 – 19 years.

And then you have the Child beauty pageants for children usually under 16 years of age where they can have routines of talent, interview, sportswear, casual wear, swim wear, evening wear etc.

The ethical question comes up whether you want to push children be seen and judged as adult women? What about the audience attending these shows and more importantly the parents who do not mind having their children be judged as adults?

Interestingly, from a diversity standpoint, African-American women were not allowed to participate in the Miss America pageant due to rampant racism in the US. Because of which, those women started the Miss Black America contest in 1968.

Looks like the mindset of slavery and white supremacy in the US didn’t really stop with their independence as is claimed.

The role ‘swimsuit contests’ have played in beauty contests has been controversial from the start, when it was first introduced in 1946 in the form of bikinis (the name borrowed from the atoll – ‘Bikini Atoll’ being used for the atom bomb testing).

This industry by some estimates is now greater than $1B while the Global Cosmetics Products Market is expected to reach $805.61B by 2023.

With such revenue generating pressures, its no wonder these industries target children in order to increase their customer base, pushing products to kids and teenagers, which would otherwise be appropriate only for adults.

Objectifying women for profit, extends beyond the beauty contests into other arenas as well, like sports where you have cheer-leaders having to dress in the barest of clothes performing acrobatics and cheering the crowds to participate more eagerly in the proceedings.

If ever there are male cheer-leaders, you’d see them wearing long pants and t-shirts, so the question is why this discrimination and objectification of women? If its to increase the entertainment quotient of sporting events, does it require girls to dress in a certain manner for it? If so, we need to take a closer look in which direction society in general is moving and is that for the betterment of society?

Wearing certain types of clothes and presenting ourselves in a certain manner in the world, is a personal choice. The question is – are we in control of this choice or are we drones being controlled & objectified by western culture, its retail industry and its norms that need to be followed to be accepted as being beautiful?


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