Society

Mind always mattered

Brains over bikinis: The Miss World beauty pageant decided to drop the swimwear round after 63 years  

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For a long time now, I’ve had a bone to pick with the multitudinous beauty pageants in the world, and not just because I’m a vegetarian. The thought of judging a person's beauty based on obvious parameters like clothes, sharpness of nose, thickness of lips and the ability to come up with ridiculous answers like “I want to be the next Mother Teresa,” makes me feel convulsive.

The desire to become the next Mother Teresa isn’t what’s ludicrous here; it’s the setting that forms an uninviting backdrop — a competition that ranks people based on how they look and how much restraint they show when a cheese plate is set before them. The presenter is more often than not a tuxedo-clad man who asks vapid questions that beget answers of the same kind.

Sure, these contests have talent rounds and personal interviews to continually reiterate the fact that they promote ‘all-round development’ of the women who participate, but in reality it seems like all they learn is how to be fair (or white, whichever you prefer), how to parade around in skimpy bikinis and how to stay stick-thin to win.

Think about it. How many plus-sized beauty contest winners actually exist? For that matter, plus-sized contestants even? It’s a little obvious that these contests are just another way to objectify women and hand out prize money depending on how symmetrical their faces are. The essence of this is best captured by Naomi Wolf in  The Beauty Myth where she writes, “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”

The reason this topic deserves to be spoken about is because this week, the Miss World beauty pageant decided to drop the bikini round after 63 years of its existence. Its organiser, Julia Morley, told Elle magazine that she didn’t need to see women just walking up and down in bikinis. That, “it doesn’t do anything for the woman, and it doesn’t do anything for any of us.”

Fair enough. Bikini rounds do nothing for the women. Then again, when have these contests done anything for women? Of course, it’s a launch pad for those wanting to get into movies and modelling, but what does it do for young, impressionable women who are on the precipice of achieving something and are looking for role models? It only expects these women to achieve looking a certain way and puts pressure on their bodies to have a certain shape — it encourages unhealthy notions of attractiveness.

Beauty isn’t a personal thing. Your beauty doesn’t belong to you; it, in fact, belongs to advertisers, fashion houses, diet-food manufacturers, pharma companies, cosmetic companies, who all come together to make the confident woman second-guess herself. It’s a patriarchal industry that pageants help thrive. The ones that win pageants go on to become movie stars, models and, in turn, help endorse products and ideas that susceptible, adolescent women pick up — that women and their bodies are mere commodities.

Today, feminism is standing at a crossroads, but that didn’t stop 2014 from being its year — whether it was Malala Yousafzai being the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Emma Watson’s game-changing speech at the UN, a number of women coming forward to accuse Bill Cosby of sexual assaults, Amal Alamuddin going for a trophy husband, the Rohtak sisters who gave a sound thrashing to their harassers… It’s now more than ever that we need feminism — to help us understand that beauty pageants are superficial, have undertones of racial bases and do have an impact on self-image.

Because as Gloria Steinem said, what is feminism but a movement to achieve the equality and full humanity of women and men and how are we going to do that, if we’re busy judging other women on how they look?

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2018 4:39:19 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/mind-always-mattered/article6716409.ece