In the light of the recent case of the Miss Universe 2015, I’ve seen several comments online dissing beauty pageants. Many accused such competitions for degrading women. Some also criticized The Philippines, a country which has done very well in most pageants, for having an “unhealthy obsession” with beauty.
As someone who joined a pageant previously, I thought I would share my personal experience here. I disagree that pageants degrade women and here is why:
1) Many Pageants assess their delegates based on many factors besides physical appearances
Contrary to what many believe, beauty isn’t the sole criteria in assessing women in many pageants. A good example would be the recent Miss Hong Kong 2015 where the top two winners– Ada Pong and Louisa Mak – were both highly educated and talented. They were classmates from Diocesan Girls School (Hong Kong’s version of Raffles Institution) and graduated from the super prestigious Manhattan School of Music and Cambridge Law respectively.
In fact, it was largely due to their intelligence and strong performance in the talent segment that they outshone other contestants and made it to the top two.
Even if contestants were assessed on beauty alone, I don’t see how this is a major problem. First of all, I would think that looking good does require a lot of effort from being disciplined with skincare regime to one’s fitness routine.
Even if genetics is an important factor, so what? In many sports, genetics is a key factor which determine one’s performance.
For instance, the best players in sports like basketball tend to be tall. I am not saying that every single high performing player is tall. However, we can’t deny that a large proportion are. If we can accept that participants in sports like these are due to a combination of good genes and hard work, why can’t we accept the same for competitions like beauty contests?
Furthermore, we have tons of competitions in our society for things like food competitions like seeing who can tolerate cold best; take the spiciest food or place their hands on the car for the longest time etc. Why isn’t anyone slamming these competitions?
2. Women exercise their freedom of choice when they join pageants
Joining a pageant is a personal choice and that is what feminism is about – empowering women to choose the life paths that they want and to be on the same level playing field as men.
It seems a little off-kilter to me when women go around preaching about “sisterhood” but have zero tolerance and respect for those who made different life decisions. These “feminists” demand that women be given the right to choose their own path but then place demands on the “acceptable” paths women can take in life.
So what if someone wants to be a beauty queen or Victoria Secrets model and not a doctor or lawyer? So what if she wants to do both by being a scientist and a gravure idol at the same time?
That doesn’t make you any better or more of a feminist than she is.
On the contrary, I would think that prohibiting women from joining pageants or belittling those who do is anti-feminism. Just look at ISIS’s recent threats against Iraq’s first ever beauty queen in 42 years and other death threats which resulted in 15 contestants dropping out. I think banning women from showcasing their beauty really sets the country back in their attempt to pursue gender equality because it prevents women from exercising their personal choice to display their bodies in the way they choose to.
Instead of backing down, the brave beauty queen said this:
“I want to prove that the Iraqi woman has her own existence in society, she has her rights like men…I am afraid of nothing, because I am confident that what I am doing is not wrong.”
Quoting my NTU Professor Liew Khai Khun on this incident
Yes, there are issues. But, people are often quick to ridicule beauty contests and contestants. Like education, employment and health, being beautiful should be regarded as a basic human right that gives humanity dignity. So, in places like Iraq, the courage of these women to be beauty contestants should be honoured as well.
3. Pageants are good platform to raise awareness for social causes
Many accuse pageants for promoting eating disorders and encouraging young women to be unhealthy. However, if you’ve seen photos of the bikini segment in pageants, most of the women are extremely fit. The well-developed muscles on their bodies are clearly a product of regular exercise, not starving themselves.
I would even go as far as to say that pageants promote healthy lifestyles because that was the case for me. Before competing, I’ve never really gone to the gym. However, upon seeing the healthy and fit bodies of my fellow contestants, I decided to do the same and learnt a lot from them.
Besides promoting healthy living, many pageants also serve as a platform for women to speak up for the causes which matter to them.
I do acknowledge that there are many cases whereby women talk about their desire to contribute to society during the pageant but do little to give back after earning the crown. However, there are many who have used pageants as a platform to further causes they care about.
I personally have done that. In 2013, to raise awareness for my campaign to reintroduce dialects, I joined Miss World Singapore. This helped me gain a wide coverage on the press in top publications such as The Straits Times, The Sunday Times, Yahoo News and Shin Min Daily News. While I did not manage to change the policy, I did manage to raise awareness for this cause. Which do you think would get bigger coverage – “Random kid from NTU sets up
While I did not manage to change the policy, I did manage to raise awareness for this cause. Which do you think would get bigger coverage – “Random kid from NTU sets up a petition to reintroduce dialects” or “Miss World Singapore finalist sets up a petition to reintroduce dialects”?
Of course the second one lah!
Over the past year, we’ve seen interesting examples of women using pageants as platforms to draw attention to the issue they care about.
The most prominent example would be Miss World Canada Anastasia Lin, 25. The University of Toronto graduate has been vocal about Chinese political repression both before and following her ‘coronation’ in Vancouver in May. She has raised the issue of abuses of practitioners of Falun Gong, a Chinese “qigong” spiritual and meditative practice with elements of Buddhism, in China.
This resulted in her being barred from entering China to compete in the pageant. However, despite this, she maintained her original position and did not back down.
The slogan of the Miss World competition is ‘Beauty with a purpose.’ My purpose is to advocate for those who cannot speak for themselves — those who suffer in prisons and labour camps, or whose voices have been stifled by repression and censorship. I also want to give courage to all people living under repressive systems. Many of them have lived in fear for so long that they have forgotten that they can think freely.
“This is a very personal cause for me. When I was a child growing up in China, my job as a student council president involved enforcing ideological purity among my classmates, organizing them to watch Communist propaganda. It was only after I moved to Canada that I discovered what it meant to think freely, to use my own mind, and to live without fear of arbitrary punishment or reprisal.
I also learned about the severe persecution that people in China face for following these values. Hundreds of thousands of peaceful and law-abiding people have been imprisoned and tortured, and many have died or disappeared in custody after they refused to renounce their beliefs and swear allegiance to the Communist Party.
You can read her impressive interview with The Epoch Times here. I wish Singapore had more beauty queens like that.
4. Pageants can be a good platform to jumpstart one’s career
There are several examples of women who joined pageants and used these as a platform to grow their careers in the entertainment industry.
One example would be Fiona Fussi who won Elite Model Look at the age of 15. This competition helped her gain public attention and recognition. Since then, she has been featured on the cover of many magazines, namely, Harper’s Bazaar, Marie Claire, ELLE, Nylon and Her World.
Fussi was also chosen to be the face of Audi Fashion Festival in 2012 and at age 18, she became the first model ambassador for global beauty brand L’Oreal Paris in Asia.
Besides entering the entertainment and fashion industry, many young women have also used pageants as a platform to kickstart their entrepreneurial journey. A local example would be Miss Universe Singapore 2009 Rachel Kum who launched her own skincare line called Rachel K Cosmetics.
Another excellent example will be entrepreneur Xenia Tchoumitcheva who joined Miss Switzerland in 2006. Although she did not win, she managed to make the most of the visibility she got from the competition and outshone the winner.
5. Pageants can teach women valuable skills
Lastly, I would think pageants are a good opportunity for women to learn several skills. Prior to joining pageants, I did not know much about working out; personal grooming or how to walk well. However, joining these competitions enabled me to pick up several of these valuable skills and helped me to improve the way I look. While these skills may seem unimportant or superficial to some, I would think that they matter a lot in a society like ours where first impressions matter a lot.
On top of that, you also get to network and forge friendships with people from all around the world. I know now that when I visit countries like Thailand; USA; Japan; China etc. I’d have friends to bring me around. It is just like any other international competition.
Of course, pageants are not perfect and there are many other things which could be improved. For instance, international pageants still tend to favour those who fit western ideals of beauty such as being taller than average and having sharp and tall noses. Local competitions are not always fair either. Many pageants also favour richer contestants by making table buying a key part of their campaign.
Having cleared up some of the misconceptions about pageants, I hope my article has helped others better understand pageants and the people who choose to take part in them. If you agree with my points, do like and share this post with your peers.
Feel free to also share your comments below!