x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

If beauty is more than skin deep, why do we still have to judge

Any practice that promotes the objectification of women inevitably fosters sexist attitudes in society, says Ayesha Almazroui

The idea of a “beauty pageant” has been under the microscope for many years. These contests do not only focus on external beauty, but they also send a prejudicial message: it is all right to judge women based on their appearance and rate them according to certain beauty standards.

And now we hear that a beauty contest is coming to the UAE.

As The National reported last week, Mansoor Al Obaidli, the UAE representative for the World Beauty Congress’s portfolio of events, is organising a Little Miss UAE pageant, and is planning to bring the World Beauty Championship to Dubai in September.

With all due respect to Mr Al Obaidli, it seems to me that the reintroduction of beauty pageants is an example of how some unacceptable practices are still seen as normal, rather than being considered outdated amid all the progress that women have made in society.

The belief that women’s looks play a major part in determining their value affects all women, not only those involved in beauty contests, because it influences the way that women feel about themselves and the way that men treat them.

While we all agree that this is unacceptable, most of us consciously or unconsciously accept these conventions.

The truth is we live in a world where women are constantly under scrutiny about their appearance and are prepared to use a variety of measures to improve their looks to conform to the modern notion of beauty. This is one price of globalisation and increasingly a problem in our society.

The plastic surgery industry is thriving in the UAE and cases of eating disorders among young women are increasing.

A survey by a Zayed University graduate found that approximately half of the women surveyed were unhappy with their bodies and wanted to change the way they look. More than a half would go under the knife in pursuit of beauty.

In addition, 30 per cent of them were at risk of an eating disorder or had symptoms of anorexia. UAE doctors say that the number of women between 17 and 35 who want plastic surgery is rapidly increasing.

While it is true that there are talent and intelligence components to many beauty contests, the fact remains that external beauty is the deciding factor for winning any competition.

Even if participants follow local rules and adhere to the religious and cultural limits that we have, hosting such contests in the first place is problematic and blatantly puts into the mainstream the practice of objectifying and devaluing women.

The more it becomes acceptable to view women as objects of beauty, the easier it becomes to disrespect or mistreat them as a group. Any practice that promotes the objectification of women inevitably fosters sexist attitudes in society.

Some would argue that men can also be the subjects of appearance- based judgement – and, indeed, there are plenty of equivalent competitions for men – but is it as severe as those judgements that are placed upon women?

I grew up with the idea that women are more than just their looks and so it’s hard for me to accept such superficial notions.

In my religion, one of the reasons women cover their bodies is to avoid being devalued or objectified. Our femininity is largely invested in our knowledge, skills and intelligence. Modesty is also a virtue in other religions.

We should not enjoy the entertainment aspect of such competitions without thinking seriously about the underlying message being transmitted to young, impressionable girls who often grow up feeling the need to conform to certain ideals.

It is time that we take a stand and push back the idea altogether.

AAlmazrouei@thenational.ae

On Twitter: @AyeshaAlmazroui