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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

Are Beauty Pageants Archaic, Demeaning and Sexist?

A friend posted on Facebook this morning that he’d just seen the Miss USA contestants on the Today Show and he can’t believe such an “archaic, demeaning and supremely sexist” thing still exists. Predictably, the men were quick to chime in with comments like, “It will exist as long as men enjoy watching beautiful women…and women enjoyed being watched” and “no body (sic) forces these ladies to be in these things. They want to do it. It is their freedom of choice.”

Perhaps equally predictably, I chimed in with: “Kinda like how nobody “forces” a woman to work as a prostitute/have sex on camera in pornographic films/stay in a abusive relationship, right? So long as men enjoy exploiting women … and women enjoy being exploited by them. Not demeaning or misogynistic at all, nope. Right-o.”

Because goddammit, I hate beauty pageants. No matter how much emphasis they try to put on scholarship and being smart and thoughtfully answering serious questions about world problems, there’s just no getting away from the fact that beauty pageants are first and foremost about putting the bodies of young women on display for men to judge as beautiful, or not. The fact that many of these young women have been training for tiaras since toddlerhood, honing and shaping themselves into some bullshit testosterone-driven sexual fantasy of the perfect Barbie doll woman, that they actually take this competition seriously and try to posit it as anything more than the purely misogynistic, hyper-sexualizing of the female body that it is, makes it that much worse. Why do we let beauty pageant standards define how our daughters have to look in order to be thought (or to think of themselves as) beautiful?

On the other hand, I admit that I don’t tend to feel the same about burlesque, in part because burlesque tends to celebrate a much wider spectrum of what constitutes female beauty, and in part because when I watch a burlesque show, it feels like watching women who are in active control of their sexuality, whereas beauty pageants seem to be just about passively offering female bodies up for display and ogling. I guess other folks might disagree, though, and find burlesque to be more exploitative because it’s inherently more sexual in nature than just parading around in a pageant.

6 Responses to “Are Beauty Pageants Archaic, Demeaning and Sexist?”

  1. Tony says:

    Pageants cater to a wide array of women. One could say that women who join them are actually in the “search for the perfect husband”. It is no secret that beauty queens marry well.. to wealthy professionals or athletes, who proudly display them as their “trophy wives”. In 2012, most important pageants don’t care if they are known about what they are really.. a T&A show. It is true that it is their choice to join, and usually half of the judges are women.

    It is also important to say that pageants are usually popular in third world countries because sometimes being beautiful is your ticket to get out of your town and end up on TV, movies, regardless of talent or not.

    Your point of view is valid and interesting. It goes to show the different choices women make and not all are feminist, some, according to cultures, still have the need to depend on a man to make themselves “fulfilled”.

    I’d say that pageants are harmless, when compared to those VH1 or Bravo reality shows that depict women as nasty and dependent.

    Needless to say, the president of the UK-based Miss World contest is actually a woman… and she respects them as such.

  2. Kim Voynar says:

    Tony, you raise some interesting points. I certainly can’t deny that there are plenty of women out there who are just angling for a rich husband, who are happy to be trophy wives. Not my thing, but it certainly seems to be the goal of some.

    And agreed on reality shows, most of which excel primarily at revealing the ugliest aspects of human nature, while catering to our own bizarre need to watch a train wreck in motion. To some degree, it must make us feel somewhat better about whatever we don’t like about our own lives to be able to say, ” … but at least I’m not a Kardashian.”

  3. Christine says:

    I completely agree with you. The fact that beauty pageants are still so widely enjoyed shows sexism on a national level.. Women are expected to be looked at and enjoyed by a male surveyor. Additionally, the women compete to be judged to be represented as an ideal woman!
    Imagine if male beauty contests were popular on the same level.. Not that it should be like that. It is unheard of because women are the ones that are judged in terms of their looks, while men (and other women) do the judging.
    I remember enjoying watching Miss Universe Pageants as a child with my mom.. my mom would tell me that someday I could win Miss Universe. As a little girl, I liked the thought of that, because just about every girl wants to feel beautiful. But as an adult, I see the obsession that women have with beauty, because of how women are represented.
    It seems like beauty pageants are still widely supported, so it’s refreshing to see other people who feel this way about beauty pageants. I think it’ll be a part of our culture for a time to come (on a global scale). Things have gotten better for women, but in cases such as this, women will continue to be objectified as items of viewing pleasure until people realise how damaging beauty pageants are to the female population. & not just because they represent women with a generalized look & body type that is unrealistic and hard to achieve, but because beauty pageants encourage women’s perceived need to please other people in order to make it (particularly in terms of looks)

  4. Sam says:

    I disagree. I think a lot of what you’ve written are unsupported generalities.

    While I don’t disagree that beauty pageants are not useful to society in general, I think they are incredibly empowering to the women who compete in them. I think the real problem is how the audience and general public reacts to them, rather than the contest itself. Comments and Facebook posts by people who don’t understand what’s going on are akin to comments made by 13-year old YouTubers.

    First of all, I find it doubtful that girls compete to “find a good husband”. Maybe that’s what it was like 40 years ago, but I think that now you’ll find that the majority of the girls compete to add it on their resume – it /is/ a job after all. The image of the successful, independent, confident woman is the new ideal. Not the housewife. Think about it. Who would still want to celebrate that, and in this day and age, what TV program would support it?

    Secondly, no one works out and takes care of their body to the extent pageant girls do, for “men”. Do you understand how difficult it is to attain that kind of fitness? It’s empowering to feel and live healthily. Most girls use pageants as motivation to achieve good health, not as the end goal. Have you followed or read some of these girl’s blogs or Twitters? These girls are not thinking of doing this to “look hot”. As for body shape/sizes, pageant girls are not all Barbie-looking. Look at Mallory Hagan, or Olivia Culpo. They come in different heights, weights, hair color, and races. I’ve seen “bigger girls” win over “skinnier girls” at local pageants often. No one looks for those things anymore. It’s how you carry yourself and take care of yourself and interact with people that matters now.

    The job of say, Miss America, involves a lot of public appearances in cities and towns around the country. She is constantly being interviewed and must have excellent communication skills. A lot of titleholders use skills earned in pageants to become anchorwomen, city council members, UN ambassadors, etc. Why would a non-profit organization that is supposed to stand for scholarship, success, and service want a delegate/ambassador/spokesperson that can’t be taken seriously? The careers of a lot of ex-Miss Americas are posted online. Most have been incredibly successful without having to marry for money (although you may be correct in third-world countries, as Tony suggested). In addition, local, state, and national titleholders perform a lot of community service above and beyond typical charitable acts. There was one who started a registered non-profit to help animals and another who helped start an orphanage in Africa – both done before competing in pageants. Also, Miss Kansas 2014 is highly respected in the military as a sergeant.

    I think pageants have helped competitors by pushing them to achieve their full potential. I think the only negative impact they’ve truly had and encountered is through the interactions between the audience and the program, and the public perception/stereotypes of pageantry.

  5. Lily says:

    All I can say on the matter is that as a young lady I nowadays, I see the women in pageants as a positive female role model, something we don`t see enough of today.

  6. Khalid says:

    I do not believe pageants are sexist and not misogynist in the least. Beauty pageants for one are great ways to promote skills that may be used in one’s future. Oprah Winfrey was first hired to be a talk host after she won a black teen pageant in Tenessee. And if a woman voluntarily enrolls in a pageant and wants to flaunt her body, let her. It isn’t demeaning in the least if she enjoys it. And arent shows like X factor and American idol exactly like beauty pageants but for singing? People perform and are judged on how well they sing. That is exactly what a beauty pageant is. If pageants are demeaning, then by your logic so must talent shows and other performances that are judged. Pageants will also encourage great social skills and fitness. Just look at those girls that compete. Do you realize how difficult it is to obtain such a body? It only promotes healthy lifestyles.

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