On beauty pageants

Imlisanen Jamir

Beauty pageants–which over the years have tactfully eliminated the ‘beauty’ part of the name–are outdated rituals that ultimately do more to hurt equality than they do to promote the young women they crown as “winners.”

In a world where women are worth more than the size of their jeans and the makeup on their faces, why are we still encouraging anything that plays into the pageant phenomenon?

Look, we have our fair share of pageants here in Nagaland, and it can seem mean spirited to disparage what could genuinely be sincere efforts to promote a construed sense of empowerment.

In an apparent effort to head off backlash such as this or to simply appear relevant, many such events now allow their contestants to keep their clothes on during the competition and say they “will no longer be judged by outward physical appearance.” They’re not even part of a beauty pageant, anymore, but “a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent, and empowerment.”

That means swimsuits are out and the evening wear segment isn’t about the gown but the wearer’s strategy to “advance their social impact initiatives,” which she will discuss, presumably, after striding confidently across a stage in heels and sequins.

Now this doesn’t mean that several pageants haven’t done some good over the years, promoting service to others, launching entertainment careers, and giving the young and good looking opportunities they might otherwise not get. But those things are secondary to the pageantry.

The fact of the matter is that people watch because it’s a beauty pageant — one arena that’s always been refreshingly honest about its objectification of women. Unlike the workplace, where it’s often popular to pretend women aren’t treated like toys, beauty pageants proudly run with the idea. They dress them up, rate their parts, pit them against one another and then plop a crown on the winner’s head to make it official.

It is time that the vestiges of the nineteenth century carnival that reduced women’s beauty to a checklist get annihilated completely; for the beauty pageants are nothing but a sanitized method of gawking at women as exotic creatures.

And if gawking at them is the aim of it, then let it not be hidden under a façade of appreciating confidence and power.

Of course, ending pageants doesn’t mean women won’t continue to be inappropriately judged on their appearance or that we’ll suddenly value brains over beauty as a society. But it would send a signal that women are at least respected a step above livestock and it’s not OK to openly rate them especially in the guise of empowerment.

Comments can be sent to imlisanenjamir@gmail.com