Why We Need to Talk About Beauty Pageants

Why We Need to Talk About Beauty Pageants

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s comments in recent months have put his visibility on the line, whether it’s his menswear line at Macy’s, golf resorts bearing his name, or partnership with media networks. However, he’s no stranger to coming under fire for arguably one of his most popular brands: the Miss USA and Miss Universe beauty pageants.

Held annually since 1952, both pageants not only aim to celebrate good looks as well as intelligence, manners, and social awareness. A panel of judges, including Trump, judge contestants on these characteristics through a number of different competitions. Women must model swimwear and evening gowns, show off a talent, and answer a pressing question regarding global or national issues within 30 seconds.

The small period of time given to answering big questions leads many to wonder how that can be a proper assessment of how smart and cultured a contestant can be. Considering that they only have a split second to prepare a well-worded statement in response to a loaded question – Miss USA 2015’s question, “If you were given 30 seconds to deliver a message to a global terrorist, what would you say?” comes to mind – it only gives an often-unflattering and viral snapshot of what the contestant is capable of producing.

Considering how much time the show allots to allowing models to show off swimwear and evening gowns prior to cutting it down to a handful of contestants who are actually allowed to interview with the judges, it’s hard to say that the entire competition can be judged fairly on anything but poise and beauty. The same can be said for talent – placing these parts after the modeling competitions, where many are cut, implies that one must be judged beautiful enough in order to show off something other than appearance.

Many have called for an end to, or change of, what constitutes beauty pageantry. In the United States, some want to end child beauty pageantry due to the possible effects of low self-esteem and self-confidence that come out of it. Others call pageantry exploitation at all ages, leading to the continual reinforcement of objectification and misogyny in international culture.

Beauty pageantry has sparked outcry in other nations as well. The French government banned child pageantry in 2013, arguing that it would keep children from becoming prematurely “sexualized.” Most importantly, however, bill author Chantal Jouanno stated that the bill intends to keep women from believing “from a very young age that their worth is based only on their appearance.” This is valuable to note, considering the large amount of households that watch beauty pageants when they air on TV.

While NBC and Univision yanked the beauty pageants from airtime due to Trump’s comments, one would hope that there was some discussion regarding how it’s about time to slowly begin dismantling the television shows that influence us to think that self-worth is based heavily on appearance. It’s also possible that we should start re-examining how beauty pageants are structured, and work to make them less based on beauty from the viewer’s perspective.

It’s possible that major pageants should expand on talent and interview portions in order to give the judges and viewers more insight into what each contestant is like outside of a dazzling smile and figure. Many, however, will continue to speak out on it and make more aware of what can and should be done about beauty pageants. Just listen to John Oliver about it.

Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.