Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 27 September 2020

There is an ugly truth about beauty pageants

As we venture into 2020, it’s difficult not to be sceptical of competitions that champion looks above all else

Miss Jamaica, Toni-Ann Singh, became Miss World last week. EPA
Miss Jamaica, Toni-Ann Singh, became Miss World last week. EPA

Last weekend, Miss Jamaica, Toni-Ann Singh, won Miss World. A week earlier, South Africa’s Zozibini Tunzi was crowned Miss Universe.

In her closing remarks, Tunzi said: “I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me, with my kind of skin and my kind of hair, was never considered to be beautiful … I think it is time that stops today … I want children to look at me and see my face and I want them to see their faces reflected in mine.”

Now, there’s no denying those are poignant words, especially coming from a woman of colour, as the five major pageant crowns (Miss Universe, Miss World, Miss Teen USA, Miss America and Miss USA) are this year, for the first time, held by black women. The thing is, Tunzi is beautiful. She’s thin, tall, able-bodied and meets all of the criteria for any global beauty pageant. So does Singh and every other woman who graces those platforms.

While some children will look at Tunzi and see a reflection of themselves, many more people won’t. And that’s the problem: these pageants uphold near-­impossible standards that the majority of people fall short of.

As we venture into 2020, it’s difficult not to be sceptical of competitions that champion looks above all else (and pageants do, no matter how much organisers protest against that suggestion). I’m loath to judge the participants. I don’t know why they got into the industry and what they get out of it, yet I can’t help but see the institutions behind them as scourges on society.

What happened to celebrating all body shapes? Have we forgotten that true beauty is in the eye of the beholder?

A representative for Miss America said the swimsuit competition wasn’t about judging the women’s beauty, but promoting fitness and a healthy lifestyle in what they described as a national health crisis. There are so many things wrong with that. Firstly, there are plenty of people who aren’t thin but are incredibly fit. Secondly, have you ever heard of being “skinny fat”? Thirdly, this could trigger anyone with an eating disorder.

What happened to celebrating all body shapes? Have we forgotten that true beauty is in the eye of the beholder?

While I don’t know anyone who would argue in defence of beauty pageants (not publicly, anyway), I’m sure there are plenty of people who would roll their eyes and tell me pageants are not harming anyone. But that’s just it – they are harmful. They’re harmful to anyone who still might think body shape, size and having a symmetrical face has anything to do with how beautiful someone is.

Thankfully, a movement has fast gained ground in which people are being more honest and open about body image. It’s only a matter of time before standards in pageantry, too, expand beyond the realms of tight-fitted gowns and impossibly expensive diamond-encrusted crowns.

Will beauty pageants still exist in 10 or 20 years? Probably. But hopefully, by then, they’ll have joined the 21st century and the line-up of participants will have begun to reflect how diverse the world really is.

Updated: December 21, 2019 10:58 AM

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