With or Without Bikinis, Why Beauty Pageants Need to Go


With or Without Bikinis, Why Beauty Pageants Need to Go

Illustration: Akshita Monga/Arré

It’s the year 2019, we are nearing the end of a decade and a lot has changed. Honda has announced that by 2022 it will have electric cars that charge in 15 minutes, Japan is in the process of replacing real human interaction with robots, the highlight of the decade, at least as far as women go, is the MeToo movement. Meanwhile, the Miss Universe pageant refuses to do away with the  controversial swimsuit round, dropped by Miss America.

The Miss Universe pageant says it is “by women, for women” and “empowers women to realise their personal, professional and philanthropic goals through experiences that build self-confidence and act as catalysts for future success”, while completely forgetting that woman are judged basis their ability to twirl, sashay, and pout better than the other gorgeous women in the room – all of whom are possibly aspiring doctors, pilots, lawyers, and entrepreneurs, but now stand reduced to a measurement statistic.

The real question we should be asking post #MeToo is: Is there some reason that beauty pageants still exist? As if the world didn’t have enough outlets for casual sexism today, we have somehow decided to retain a pageant from the days of the World Wars as a reminder that women are still expected to dress up and look pretty in the hope that the crowd will give them a round of applause and some whistles.

Miss Universe, or any other beauty pageant for that matter is the most dishonest talent hunting show in the world. Even Splitsvilla treats its women contestants better. The pageants claim to pit well-rounded woman against each other. But it always end up looking like a wet T-shirt contests with a patriotic sash, and we fool ourselves into thinking we’re rooting for more than just physical beauty.

We’re not. Let’s face it, anything once owned by Donald Trump is not judging women on any parameter other than how hot they are in different “looks”. (Trump reportedly boasted about having walked into the dressing room of contestants and joked about his obligation to sleep with them.) The men of Mr Universe are expected to lift a stupid amount of weights, and flex each part of their body until their veins look like a map of the Delhi metro. At least that is one, very specific skill they are asked to showcase.

An astute reader will at this point in the debate bring up the “questions”. Most questions on world peace and hunger don’t even pretend to be anything more than sound bytes. A few are downright insulting.  Take for instance a question asked in 1969, when people were advanced enough to go to the moon: “If a man flew down from the moon into your hometown, what would you do to entertain him.” The only correct answer to this is presumably, “Whatever he wants me too, baby.”

The problem with the “beauty pageant” is no matter how hard it tries to be well-rounded, it will never convince us that it is not specifically designed to whittle it’s contestants down to one dimension. If it were, we’d have more Miss Universes solving climate change instead of inaugurating bakeries before fading out of everyone’s memory. Some of these women are competitive swimmers, others are excellent photographers, heck some are even industrial engineers, but once they enter the pageant world they’re all the same: Beautiful women who for some reason are expected to be experts in foreign policy.