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Beauty Contests

Published in October 2010 in Tharunka Magazine

One should call a spade a spade. In a 21st century time crammed with shovel wannabes, this mantra has become vaguely unsatisfactory. The professional toilet-cleaner now calls himself a Sanitation Consultant, the housewife has morphed into a Domestic Technician, and the short have become the vertically challenged.

The world is becoming increasingly filled with things we can’t say. We’ve all by now heard of the ongoing over-zealous UK local government attempts to have Christmas trees renamed as “holiday trees” so as not to offend the good folk of other religions, or the plan to have manholes repositioned as “personal access units” to avoid the wrath of women.  Without ever actually agreeing to it we know that we can no longer make jokes in an airport about having a bomb in our luggage, and understand that humour is not at home talking to US immigration officials. While freedom of speech and thought only continue to develop, they come with the contrasting liberty of the right to not be insulted.

Last month Gold Coast teenager Jesinta Campbell was placed as second runner up in the Miss Universe Competition in Las Vegas. Beauty contests have long been a curiously confusing sort of competition. For those not similar with the current standard Miss Universe style format, I’ll elaborate. The contestants, chosen through complicated procedures in their home countries, are usually required to jump through various metaphorical hoops that involve many changes in attire and a lot of standing and parading around, before being whittled down to a select group of favourites. These crown hopefuls then get the honour of further competing in both the swimsuit and evening gown competitions, before having their numbers cut down again to a handful of finalists. This is where it gets interesting.

The final five competitors are placed in front of an audience and made to answer questions designed to reveal their views or to encourage them to cultivate opinions on topics like sun damage awareness, the death penalty, full body scanners at airports and the effects of unsupervised internet on the youth. Though these areas are undeniably interesting, an air of farcicality can often be perceived when the expressed ideas are coming from someone who has already stepped out in heels and a bikini in the high hope of securing a crown, and where the aim of the game is to be as inoffensive and generally pleasing as possible.

Why include this extra stress on our beauties’ otherwise perfectly smooth foreheads? Why should the pretty be forced to care about the less fortunate, when those with  natural business talent can use it to impoverish their inferiors, and those who are academically gifted can use their innate smarts to educate themselves into a better paying job? Considering Miss World began its life in 1951 as the Festival Bikini Contest, one questions when exactly global issues have ever found their launching pad on a beach (excepting of course oil spillages and mass shark attacks, but that’s for another article).

A sideline focus on what any festival partaker wants from the world is detracting from the aim of beauty competitions, which is essentially to find a lot of hot people and compare them to each other. If all participants are willing, shouldn’t good genes and good maintenance be rewarded in the same way they are for any athletic competition? Tiger Woods may no longer be quite the fine morally sound gentleman he was once considered, but he is still allowed compete within his area of expertise, regardless of personal actions, views or behaviour.

On top of this, do we really want world peace to become the stuff of cheap laughs for a disbelieving audience? Shouldn’t passion for an end to global hunger be taken seriously? One suspects there is a reason why Julia Gillard wears a suit and not a bikini when discussing upcoming policy changes and statute reform, foxy though she is.

In the end the refusal to have a beauty contest that centres on just looks and nothing else is not so much a case of “PC gone mad” and more one of a broader sense of communal self-regard. We don’t want to admit that we make judgements based on looks. We’d rather not openly declare that we occasionally measure others purely on physical attractiveness without needing to hear one word out of their mouths. In a world where one can compete in something as specific as “extreme ironing”, and where academically and intellectually based competitions take place without apology on a regular basis, we feel the need to excuse our penchant for measuring beauty with the excusatory idea that it’s also what’s inside that counts, and don’t you forget it.

Are these competitions empowering in the 21st century Destiny’s Child Independent Woman sense of the word? Probably not. But let’s just label this spade a spade so the crown-hungry can avoid unnecessary mental confusion over what kind of a game they’re entering themselves into in the first place.