The recent story of a girl drugged and raped at 16 back in 2014 has shaken the whole nation. She recalled her traumatic and heartbreaking story of being sexually abused by Manoj Pandey, the organiser of a beauty pageant after she won. She also revealed how the former Miss Nepal Malvika Subba who calls herself an active feminist denied a request to hear and reach out to the 16-year-old survivor back at the time. The survivor is now mentally unhealthy, attempting frequent suicides and under constant medication.
Feminism sounds cool until we realise the fact that what we call ‘feminist’ is actually the converse of it. Is it not ironic that during the time feminism is at its peak, more women than ever are competing in beauty pageants? More women than ever are complaining and crying about being harassed and assaulted?
Beauty pageants as a centuries-old tradition have managed in some way to hold their position of esteem even in 2022. They survive every wave of feminism, due to their idea to ‘modernise’ without really changing anything. However, in the core, as it has been revealed in Nepal, the whole industry is just pseudo-feminist.
The ugly industry
“Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the ‘Miss’ of them all?” Undoubtedly, the young, tall and skinny woman with spotless skin and great hair.
The criteria by which women are chosen or even eligible to compete in a beauty pageant is very problematic and still the same for ages. She must be between a certain age, and weight and her body measurements should not exceed certain numbers which directly promote a narrow and limiting concept of so-called ‘beauty’. Not to mention the height bar set by these beauty pageants…
What is the point in a 5-foot 8-inch tall woman representing a country like Nepal in the beauty contests where the average height of a Nepali woman is 5 feet? These beauty pageants also have eligibility restrictions on marriage and pregnancy. Women who do not fit into this ideal box of pageants are singled out and excluded from the narrative. So, here arise a few questions: How do these pageants actually modernise women when the criteria they set are still stereotypical? Why is a hangover from a far more patriarchal era still existing in our society?
Moreover, with the widespread popularity of beauty pageants, young girls and women have started relying on their looks as a means of success and validation. They subconsciously evaluate their self-worth based on their physical appearance in society. They feel pressurised to achieve the standards of beauty presented to them. The number of women who are developing low self-esteem is high. They even give up on loving themselves and many have even become victims of body-shaming. It leads to their poor mental health just because of these irrational quests to exalt a certain body type.
The regressive road
Currently, beauty contests are continually being introduced at schools and other platforms for children where they are trained and brainwashed with beauty stereotypes at a very susceptible age. Children face rejection and get harassed so early in life which demotivates them to grow further in many ways.
While adults have a choice of walking around with a perfect body on the stage displaying their confidence and sporting fake tans, children are too young to make these decisions independently. So, these beauty pageant industries should totally do away with children’s beauty contests as early as possible and allow them to become mature adults and let them decide for themselves if they want to become a part of such things.
Why are women participating in these beauty pageants where most of them are repudiated? It is certainly because of the glamour these pageants have. Many of them often enter aspiring to win the showbiz opportunity as these pageants do provide platforms to the candidates to present themselves in front of the world. The promise of recognition and fame is what elevates these contests.
But, very unhealthy competition and the notion of beauty which undervalues intelligence are promoted by them. Pageants do include one or two rounds of questioning where you get to show your sympathy for the poor and the oppressed and a talent contest where participants have to show that they have some real expertise.
This is true, but you do not get a chance to show off your sympathy and talent if you do not meet their materialistic requirements such as a dress code. Does that really take a person’s intellect into account? And no wonder pageants often look like the frontage of good talk. When contestants are asked ‘what do you want to bring to the world?’, they usually answer something like world peace whilst the world is literally on fire or some social work which definitely does not need tiaras and pretty bodies.
The capitalist culture
Who actually benefits from beauty pageants? It is certainly not the masses. These contests work like a money-making tree for the organisers. Judges pick a winner from among attractive contestants using their instincts. The same organisers promote and give publicity to the winners. Then, their sponsors are usually companies, fashion brands, beauty products and media. So, beauty pageants are basically business plans for national and international companies to sell their products in exchange for titles given to some women who match their ideals and tell the world that they are celebrating the qualities of women.
Women are beautiful when they accomplish what they set out to do, leaping across hurdles and breaking barriers. They are beautiful when they stand out for themselves and question inequality. They are beautiful when they show empathy and help support and build up other women and not bring them down.
Sushmita, in the recent scenario, is beautiful in the way she spoke out, she is beautiful in the way of her bravery, her survival, and her fight against the abusers and enablers. The place of women in society is vital and irreplaceable and they should be empowered for social and economic growth rather than the false hopes and skewed intentions like beauty pageants.
Are beauty pageants really empowering? Or is the idea of judging a number of women and bringing down some along with harassment and abuse a form of pseudo-feminism? The answers are up to us and society.