Something amiss about all the 'Miss' beauty pageants

A competitive environment judges women on how they look, how they fit in a tiny swimsuit, and how accurately they deliver pre-rehearsed lines



The final three Miss Universe contestants (L to R) Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane; Miss India, Harnaaz Sandhu; and Miss Paraguay, Nadia Ferreira pose on stage during the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant in Israel's southern Red Sea coastal city of Eilat on December 13, 2021.  (Photo by Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
The final three Miss Universe contestants (L to R) Miss South Africa, Lalela Mswane; Miss India, Harnaaz Sandhu; and Miss Paraguay, Nadia Ferreira pose on stage during the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant in Israel's southern Red Sea coastal city of Eilat on December 13, 2021. (Photo by Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
by

Rasha Abu Baker

Published: Tue 21 Dec 2021, 10:39 PM

Last updated: Mon 24 Jan 2022, 10:09 AM

It is a very competitive world out there, where we, especially women, are constantly being assessed on our abilities, our adaptabilities, our work ethic, our parenting skills, our fashion sense and, of course, the way we look and our body types.

These, and more, are all issues that us women have been forced to adapt to from a very young age and now in the 21st century society, women worldwide are finally finding their voices.

Concerns are constantly raised and calls to end such damaging criteria and ease the pressures that young girls and women are being subjected to unnecessarily are becoming the norm, not only among feminists, but in most reasonable people, both female and male.

So, can you imagine that a competitive environment which for the most part solely judges women on how they look, how they fit in a tiny swimsuit, and, believe it or not, how accurately they deliver some pre-rehearsed lines, still exists in today’s world?

Imagine no more. This strange and out-of-date concept still exists and in many variations. A quick Google search listed 26 international beauty contests for women and teenage girls, and this is not counting continental, regional, or national pageants (400+ in total). These are competitions which can trigger feelings such as anxiety, insecurity and self-hate for both the participants and many of the ‘other’ girls watching from the sidelines.

These contests encourage young girls to place so much significance on their looks and teaches them early on that in order to have a voice, be adored, be worthy of respect and attention, they have to be impossibly physically beautiful. Those are not lessons I want to bring home to my three-year-old daughters and is precisely why when I decided to sit down to watch Miss Universe for the purpose of this piece, I did so during their nap time.

Beauty pageants serve little purpose in my eyes, but to perpetuate the following rather disturbing checklist:

  • Pitting women up against each other, parading them around like pieces of meat — check
  • Judging women on their facial features and bone structure — check
  • Judging women on how good they look in a swimsuit — check
  • Encouraging women to ‘doll up’ to look nothing like they do in real life — check
  • Submitting them to inane tasks that have little or no relevance in today’s world — check
  • Subjecting participants to the risk of getting lock jaw for having to hold a frozen non-Duchenne smile for hours — check

Full disclosure: I grew up watching Miss Universe and Miss World; a set of bizarre, televised competitions which did nothing more than make me feel insecure; reinforcing the outmoded idea that women are sexual objects and only fit to be glorified as such, and yet they filled the TV schedules every year.

Although they may market themselves as competitions that seek to empower women and judge contestants based on personality, intelligence, and talent, we all know that no one watches for those reasons and these contests only do damage by objectifying women and promoting unhealthy body standards. They are nothing more than a superficial ranking of women based on their physical beauty.

As to the charities they champion, there are many other ways that women can promote their causes other than through beauty pageants.

Mind you, this is NOT an attack on the winner, 25-year-old Harnaaz Sandhu from India, who is clearly a confident and exceptional person, and while she did get a chance to talk about her work, her hopes, her aspirations – she was first asked by the host to…imitate an animal. The same goes for the other contestants, they are clearly ambitious, talented and admirable for numerous reasons, but I am at a loss for words here and cannot help but question why, in almost 2022, the world still needs such a ‘competition’ to highlight them.

I do not believe we should subject our youth, our next generation, our future sons, and daughters (especially our daughters), to these immensely damaging misogynist concepts.

Whatever happened to appreciating the unique looks of all people? Celebrating their personalities, lauding their achievements? I certainly believe we are all beautiful in our own unique ways. Plus, as grown adults we can appreciate that beauty goes far beyond superficial looks.

By the same token, why aren’t men being paraded around and held up to similar beauty and mankini standards?

Men’s competitions, if they still exist, mostly revolve around musculature and sporting prowess, still a little bit sexist, yes, but at least the male competitors are not portrayed as if they are goods for sale.

We must realise that such outdated forms of judgements are toxic and have no place in a modern society. Perhaps we should follow the lead of this year’s entrant from Bahrain who refused to wear a swimsuit for the contest in a gesture of individuality that reflected her cultural and religious beliefs, much like the 1951 winner who refused to pose for publicity pictures wearing one of the sponsors’ swimsuits. That was 70 years ago and it really is about time we showed more respect to women.

— rasha@khaleejtimes.com