Typically when beauty pageants come to mind we think of beautiful women in beautiful gowns who win scholarship money for school, participate in community service, achieve the goals that are related to their platform and role models that we hope the young women of our society aspire to be. In reality, behind the scenes there is much more than what appears to the eye. Many can argue that they play a major part in women’s self esteem issues and the exploitation of them. Despite how obnoxious they are, the world is made up of people who truly enjoy this form of entertainment. However, they could also play a major part in creating a goal oriented woman, and a person who doesn’t buckle under pressure. For years people have argued whether beauty pageants played a major part in the success or downfall in societies and what the effect they have on women who participate in them. Through the study of beauty pageants, they prove how effective beauty pageants are and describe how the unfortunate ones who lose cope with the disappointment.
Although financially beauty pageants may be worthwhile, beauty pageants should be done away with or have a change of criteria because they are superficial, cause women to have low self-esteem, and are more beneficial for the countries the women represent rather than the contestants. Big lights, big hair, extreme make-up, tiaras and sashes have not always been the look of beauty pageants. Pageants made their initial appearance in the 1920’s in United States. After the major success and popularity, other countries began to participate. After 90 years, beauty pageants have become the largest scholarship assistance program for women in America. . “Beauty pageants” can be dated back further than you think. Arguably scholars can date them back to the Greek mythological times, where Eris began the Trojan War with a prize, it was called “For the Fairest.” (Cohe, Wilk, and Stoeltje 3) However pageants as we know them today with segments showcasing a different talent or skill, all derive from an era that some may know as the Roaring Twenties.
This was a time that allowed women in America to vote, work industrial jobs, and wear make-up without being negatively labeled. It all began on September 6, 1921; with the very first beauty pageant entitled Miss Beautiful Bathing Girl. It only started with seven girls and by the next year consisted of fifty-seven contestants. From this small competition blossomed the well known Miss America pageants and it has existed from that September until now (Merino 7). “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” is a well known American proverb; in other words saying that you can’t really know a person simply by their appearance but by looking deeper. The Oxford Dictionary defines beauty contest; as a competition for a prize given to the woman judged the most beautiful. How can a competition based majority on your outer appearance have any good benefits unless you win the crown?
As we examine beauty pageants across the world, it is obvious that women still don’t have equal rights. In the book, “At issue social issues: Beauty Pageants,” Jill Filipovic, a writer and lawyer in New York City, claims that women’s bodies are not their own but seen as objects of beauty for others. (Merino 28) Most women want to be perceived as attractive, which has ended with the result of them being the primary suppliers in the diet industry, responsible for the majority people with eating disorders, and consist of most of the plastic surgeries performed each year. In the book, “At issue social issues: Beauty Pageants,” Jean Trounstine; a professor of humanities at Middlesex Community College in Massachusetts. In the chapter titled, “Beauty Pageants in prison can have positive effects,” she believes that Beauty contest in prison can provide educational opportunities, boost self-confidence, and offer a break from the challenge of prison life. (45) Trounstine has experienced this first hand; she spent ten years at Framingham Women’s Prison teacher literature, drama and writing.
The prison pageants have been conducted across the globe in countries such as Mexico, Brazil, Columbia, Peru, Venezuela, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, Lithuania, and the U.S. (48) Winning these pageants provides the women with time off their sentences, rewards of cash, and even in a few cases the ability to attend modeling school, admits women prisoners from Brazil, Kenya, and Colombia. (50) The evidence found in the chapter of this book reveals to us that Beauty Pageants in prison are a great way for women to better themselves despite their present situation. We are lead to believe that pageants are to display a person’s skill and talent, although we all know otherwise that money and physical appearance are important. Hiliary Levey, a graduate student in sociology at Princeton University, declares the relevance of beauty pageants is waning. With the extravagant ball gowns, over the top make-up and hairstyles, the prices have to be high. In the book “At issue, Social issue: Beauty Pageants,” in American beauty pageants some women are described as “pageant patties.”
“Pageant Patties are stereotypical beauty contestants who want world peace, never have a hair out of place in their hair-sprayed-shellacked, football-helmet hair-dos, and wear gowns that look like something out of Dallas.” ( Merino; Levey, 2007) These beauty contest judge women who are layered with caked on make-up and previously memorized question areas; allowing societies to place a strong value on superficial beauty. Pageantry was previously considered prostitution without sex and social disapproval. Many Feminist groups are on constant attack of these women. Although for the contestants who are participating in these “sexist” pageants were not at all concerned about the feminist at the time. In Moscow in the 1980s, the participants were considered prostitutes and were escorted by body guards everywhere, also traveling with them was a group named Mosgosinkasso, which is an organization similar to brinks confirms contestant Lena Moskalenko.
However, physical beauty and the judgment of it, is something that we all deal with everyday. Most women enjoy feeling pretty; doing their make-up, hair and dressing nicely. That is one portion of a beauty pageant. Since there are limitations such as weight and height to the women who are allowed to participate in them, this could be very harmful to a person’s self esteem. Although if you are able to granted with “idealistic beauty,” why not make money from it? The participants are able to win scholarship money, becomes role models for young women, perform much needed community service and receive a small fame earning them the attention of those who might not have previously listened to speak on issues they believe in. For the Feminist party, the high rating received from the televised pageants doesn’t alter their opinion one bit.
Feminist have said that “pageants are a small part of a large scale system of oppression which positions women’s bodies as objects to serve others- to give them pleasure, make them money, see their product, and birth their babies.” (Merino; Filipovic 31) When beauty pageants come to mind, some will say they feel as if women are being used. To think of women performing and modeling their “idealistic figures” in clothing to be watched by the world to only receive either a monetary compensation or the promises of a small fame. In 1968, at the Miss America pageant, a group of women from the feminist party threw stink bombs and sung “Ain’t she sweet, making profits of her meat.” (Merino; Levey 11) Others believe that beauty pageants are beneficial to society and applaud the beauty of women and their health. There is no set standard for beauty. Let’s use a well known beauty pageant such as Miss America for example, if this was the case every winner would look the same; although they do not and make-up a majority of different races. The pageants have the ability to tie different groups of people into one audience.
“It is not clear why a celebration of female physical beauty is sexist… especially when all the women involved are eager to participate.” (Merino; Wendy Elroy, In Defense of Beauty Pageants, 33) Records show that feminists from the past would burn their bras and those of today hold other protests, however they fail to realize that no one is making these women participate against their will. Beauty contests promote an unrealistic ideal of physical beauty. How many rounds of the beauty pageants take note on more than physical beauty? There are two; including a talent and interview portion. When the main part of the show is with women walking across the stage in ball gowns and bathing suits in comparison to a couple question interviews and a usually half dressed talent portion. What do these pageants do for our society other than create appearance insecurities for our youth? It can be harmful to women by encouraging cosmetic surgery, dieting, depression, and eating disorders; such as Miss America 2008, who suffered from anorexia.
In an article entitled,” Objectified Body Consciousness in a Developing Country: A Comparison of Mothers and Daughters in the US and Nepal”; author Crawford et al., They describe feelings associated with beauty competitions: The negative consequences have been detailed in Fredrickson and Roberts’ (1997) general theoretical account of objectification. Objectification theory proposes that self-objectification leads to a cluster of negative psychological consequences including body shame, appearance anxiety, reduced concentration or attentional focus in non-appearance-related tasks, and decreased awareness of internal states such as hunger and sexual arousal. (Sex Roles (2009) 60:174–185) No one is forced to participate in beauty pageants. As we take into consideration the feminist views and other negative effects that are said to derive from pageants, we have to remember it is their choice to participate. Is it that horrible to enjoy seeing a person who is healthy, fit, and well proportioned? For example a trophy may be given to a track runner; we all know that being able to run a certain speed doesn’t define his/her worth.
Similarly shouldn’t we be able to give a woman a prize for her beauty without saying that is her worth or all that matters? These women have won the “social lottery.” In the book, “A theory of justice,” author Rawl contends that just as “naturally beautiful people are akin to those born rich or with perfect health; they have won “the social lottery.”” (qtd. In Merino; Elroy 35) Just as people are born with different talents and skills, people are born beautiful. We should not prohibit people from using their own advantages to their fullest potential. These “lucky,” women are able to learn good sportsmanship, able to network with other women, and at times even leave with new found friendships. Also it allows young women to learn to form opinions on popular currents issues. As well all know some type of interview is usually performed at these events; isn’t it safe to say that the poise, grace, and confidence that these women learn during pageantry may help them when applying for job and participating in interviews in the future.
Pageants create strong minded, successful, and powerful women. Your appearance, skill, and body are exploited in pageants. A Greek philosopher; Plato, once said, “We behold beauty in the mind.” Women fail to keep this statement in mind, and not setting appropriate moral standards and values for themselves. The platform issue for Miss America 2008 is anorexia; she suffered from this disease throughout high school. On the other hand, others claim that beauty pageants enable women to have more confidence. It allows them to learn that you should always set goals for yourself and should have something that you are aiming for. Arguably the women maintain a good diet, allowing them to have top notch health. Unlike American beauty pageants, where most competitions include swimwear, evening wear, interviewing and a talent portion focusing on a women’s outer appearance, those in middle eastern countries do otherwise.
In Saudi Arabia, one beauty pageant that women participate in is called, “Miss Beautiful Morals.” In this article, a woman by the name of Sukaina al-Zayer; wore a black robe and hijab also known as an Islamic veil. The creator of the event explained how the contestants are judged solely on their inner beauty. The winners aren’t always beautiful or fit but are judged on their commitment to following Muslim beliefs and how much respect they have for their parents. The women in Saudi Arabia are not offered a cash prize, traveling or any of the glitz and glamour like that offered by other countries, but have a sense of honor that they have lived the life their God has asked of them. (Middle East Quarterly Fall 2009 16:4) Wendy Elroy; a writer, and editor for the book “Liberty for women,” tells us in “At issue social issues: Beauty Pageants,” suggests that it is time to lighten up and applaud beauty, not pathologize it. Pageantry can be and has been used a way to get break into the media world.
Successful actresses such as Eva Longoria, Sharon Stone, Oprah Winfrey, Michele Pfeifer, Vanessa Williams and Halle Berry have participated in pageants and used the opportunity as a way to be noticed. This has definitely worked in their favor; you can see that they are all very successful women. Beauty Pageants are a great way for women to better themselves and look great on resumes and college applications. They allow women to gain self-confidence; it makes your weaknesses apparent allowing you to change them. The women are less likely to have stage freight enabling them to have better leadership skills. Small countries also conduct beauty pageants. While researching the presence of beauty contests and pageants culturally, scholars have made note that with different values and morals, many countries may not participate in pageants native to America such as Miss World or Miss Universe, they do have beauty competitions.
Although Miss World and Miss Universe may be global, the United States of America has local competitions as well. Ranging from Miss Landmine, to Miss Chicken Drumsticks, America; and smaller countries have different ways to judge beauty. With the American economy being a constant roller coaster, women find a way to be a role model, achieve community service, and pay their ways through school by simply winning pageants. The money is good and quick and can be beneficial to a young woman’s future. There are around 3,500 pageants occurring just in the United States. In a lot of foreign countries women “are to be seen, not heard.” (Moskalenko 62) By winning the local pageants of their area, candidates and beauty queens, are ultimately granted a voice allowing them to share their opinions and ideas. It is implied that by participating in these pageants the women are treated with more respect. These women were doing this for their families and for their countries. In smaller countries women were promised small amounts of money but better yet more visitors for their homelands increasing their economy.
In Moscow they were promised traveling, money, and the cover of a Russian magazine. Despite America’s first amendment guaranteeing free speech, women of other cultures are not as privileged. Whereas money is very fundamental, women in less fortunate countries are elated to be able to finally speak up and be heard. It was confirmed “In nations without royalty, the winners have become queens, elevated and idealized far beyond their own humble beginnings.” (Goldsmith 21) In countries where women lack a voice, they are finally able to have all ears after the win, which makes them feel more established. There is a sense of thanks to these women for putting their country on the map. In the late 1980s in Nicaragua, beauty pageants were developed in beliefs that they exhibited a civilized and modern area. They wanted to be shown as a developed country. During the 1980s, beauty pageants gained global popularity in many countries like Guatemala, Liberia, Tibet, Tonga, Thailand, and Belize to name a few.
During the research process data showed that, the difference in beauty pageants from those in America and other cultures is that aside from America, heritage is a very important part to the citizens. In the book, “At issue social issues: Beauty Pageants,” Rosie Goldsmith; a reporter for BBC, National Public Radio, Deutsche Welle, and Deutschland-funk; argues that Beauty Pageants mirror the state of a nation: its economy, its ambition, its self-image. (21) The prizes may be small and not as extravagant as those in America but with many countries you put your homeland first. Attracting tourism and helping the monetary status of their country is more than a big enough prize.
Author King-O’Rian of the book, “Judging Race in Japenese American Beauty Pageants points out: Women in the pageant do emotional labor in order to “sell” Japanese American culture. In Japan town, San Francisco, and Little Tokyo, Los Angeles, pageants were developed as a ploy to bring more business into these ethnic enclave areas. The creation of the pageant as an “event” to draw in people and their money uses the women for their economic gain of others, in the process of using them to hawk culture to get others interested in Japanese culture through their wearing of the kimono [traditional Japanese garment], participation in cultural events, media interviews and the like. (9)
With this text deciphered, it is apparent that women are given these titles to be as looked upon as symbols to represent Japan. “In many parts of the world, the pageants are sustained by the money they make and the tourism they attract.” (Merino; Goldsmith 19) With some countries economies being so low, this has become as a last resort. I believe that majority women are persuaded into these events by friends and family members in hopes of saving their homeland. With the beauty industry being at an all time high, with numerous brands of make-up, creams, and cosmetic surgery being at an all time high, how could this not be a great market to invest time into too? In China the beauty industry has become the 4th largest area of growth. (Merino; Goldsmith 21) It has now become apparent to us that China has arrived on the world stage and can match the United States in almost all aspects.
As you can see, the information revealed in this section addresses the women who participate in them and the reason behind it. It is a cultural issue that determines the ultimate reason a woman might participate in such an event. A common issue would be fame, many women who partake in the contest become very well known from all the publicity giving them many opportunities; for example in India, they become Bollywood film stars. This may not seem big to us, but in their country this is a great honor. Beauty pageants have existed around the world for decades; it is time that they should be done away with or become more developed and change their criteria.
Pageants are a great way to learn lifelong skills, however the weight they have on a woman’s feeling of self-worth is more than should be allowed. There are woman in this world who continually participate in pageants never winning a single crown. After partaking in beauty pageants; life may always seem like a constant competition. A woman may feel as if she is always being judged, never allowed to be herself and where she truly feels comfortable. Yes, women are held to higher regards and given an opportunity that those otherwise would not be able to obtain. Do people really take the women seriously? No, they are merely just a symbol of the country they represent. ————————————————-
It is so important that we put a stop all pageants that do not show the most substantial qualities of women. Since pageants have been sustained for so long and make good TV; why not change pageants for the better. A possible section of the pageants good be a performance; of all the talents and skills a woman has gained over the previous years: languages [being asked any phrase to translate], sculpture, pottery building, any athletic skill. This would be long; but we could lose the bathing suit portion and this would be mixed in with the talent.
This would encourage women to fill themselves with as much knowledge as possible. Another possibility is doing away with body norms taking height, weight, and proportions into consideration. This will allow all women to participate and giving us a chance to find a true well rounded queen. By having a talent portion that demonstrates a person skills, will help women to know there still is a such thing as brains and beauty. Isn’t one of the benefits of beauty pageants to create role models for young women, well if we eliminate the typically body standard, and allow more women of different shapes and sizes to compete. A good role model does not have one look and or one set beauty standard but embodies someone worth to model yourself by.
Cohen, Colleen, Richard Wilk, and Beverly Stoeltje. Beauty Queens on the Global Stage. New York City: Routledge, 1996. Print.
Faria, Caroline. International Feminist Journal of Politics June 2010, Vol. 12 ed., Issue 2 sec.: 222-43. Print.
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Mattsson, Katarina, and Katarina Pettersson. Nordic Journal of Women’s Studies Dec. 2007, Vol. 15 ed., Issue 4 sec.: 233-45. Print.
Middle East Quarterly; Fall2009, Vol. 16 Issue 4, p83-83, 1/3p http://web.ebscohost.com.proxy.library.vcu.edu/ehost/detail?vid=4&hid=10&sid=1151f2e6-872a-47a0-9561-b81e60c2c320%40sessionmgr12&bdata=JkF1dGhUeXBlPWlwLHVybCxjb29raWUsdWlkJnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZSZzY29wZT1zaXRl#db=a9h&AN=44290615
Noel Merino, ed. At issue social issues: Beauty Pageants. Greenhaven Press. Gale Cengage Learning 2010.
PURE BEAUTY: Judging Race in Japanese American Beauty Pageants. By Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. 2006