The Ugly Truth

Beauty pageants.

Why do we still have these things, again?

No, really. I don’t understand. What is this for?

Oh, right. Mindlessly judging young women based on their attractiveness and barely camouflaged sex appeal. In a contest.

Yes, yes, I know, there are questions they have to answer. Allegedly, these are questions one cannot get wrong. They’re sort of opiniony, bleeding-heartish, “I wanna save the world!” questions. Yet somehow, people like that poor girl on Miss Teen USA a few years ago can still muck it all up with their “Maps and like such as” stuff.

And I don’t blame her. I don’t. She was 17 and sparkly and shiny and she had super-white teeth and pretty hair and that was really all she was supposed to have to do. I don’t know the poor girl, but I’m sure she’s not really that dumb… she just got caught in the lights and she was only 17, so she hadn’t quite figured out how to save the world yet. Maps. Everyone needs maps. That should help.

These events use the idea of national spokeswomanhood for some cause or another, and maybe some cash for a scholarship, as so much blemish concealer to try to hide the fact that they’re really just about the base social studies lesson of trying to determine, from year to year, which state has the prettiest young women on the whole. Then this particular pageant sends that girl on to see if she’s as pretty as the women from other countries.

Really, though, they barely talk about anything but the prettiness contest. It’s actually rather brazen.

I did a little research. (Very little. It’s hard to bring oneself to google “Miss USA” while hating everything it stands for.) Miss USA is the pageant that catapults its winner to the Miss Universe pageant. (Nevermind how stunningly Earthist that pageant is. Not unlike the World Series involving only American and a couple token Canadian teams.) Miss USA’s “history” page says the Miss Universe pageant started from a “local bathing beauty competition” spearheaded by a swimwear designer.

How inspirational.

It says the Miss Universe contest has “evolved into a powerful, year-round, international organization that advances and supports opportunities for these young women” who are “savvy, goal-oriented and aware.”

It doesn’t say what they’re aware of.

Then it asks you to click on the past titleholders to see where they are now. So I did. I thought maybe they’d have some women who have made successful careers in business, finance, movies, whatever.

I have never heard of any of these women in my life. Including the years they won.

Nevermind that there are no links for these women. There are photos of them dating back to 1952, with their names… but no links to see “where they are now!”

The website, like the event itself, is a bunch of flash and glitter. And that’s all.

Now don’t get me wrong. The women who win these preposterous contests do travel the world and do some charity work. I don’t know how dirty they get, but they do some stuff. And that’s great.

Now show me what they do after they’re done being a beauty queen for a year.

Isn’t that what we should celebrate?

But that’s not how it works. We spend an evening (and I’m playing fast and loose with the word “we”) sitting in front of a television, judging these women on who’s pretty, who’s prettier, and who’s prettier still. Do we like her hair? What about her hips? Oh, she’s got nice legs. The one on the right might be better. Wow… honey, where’d you get those teeth? Ease up on the mascara! Those boobs cannot possibly be real.

The Question and Answer portion of the evening usually boils down to “She’s an idiot” and “That wasn’t an awful answer…”

I know a few women who have been in pageants here and there. Mostly small events, though I worked with a former Miss Massachusetts. Nice woman. I’d tell you her name, but you wouldn’t know her. She’s very nice, and was fine at her job. She wasn’t an idiot; she wasn’t an empty head. I’m not saying they all are. I’m saying the pageants they participate in are full of empty promises. Bright lights in big cities and some money for school, maybe. Maybe a chance to take a year off, travel, see Haiti and Africa, work with AIDS-infected orphans and do some real good (if it’s not just a photo op). I’m sure those experiences are formative for those women. I’m sure they make impressions.

Just not on us.

Isn’t the pageant industry just a way to put pretty women on a stage and see who falls? Who falters? Who flubs? Aren’t the “opportunities” afforded to these women based completely on how they look?

Aren’t we supposed to be getting past that by now?

1952. That’s when this nonsense started. From a bathing suit competition in California.

Haven’t we evolved since then?

What about the girls all over the country who really need opportunities? Who have poise but aren’t pretty? Who are pretty but not privileged? Do we realize how many pageants, how many entry fees, how many ball gowns and hairdos these girls need to go through, how many contests they have to win, to get to the national stage, where the “real opportunities” happen?

What a joke.

The money that’s spent on the tiaras and the production and the TV time and the staff for the event, for the facade of a website… There’s so much good that money could do.

So many opportunities it could create for so many women.

But instead, it’s all funneled for one woman, who’s judged to be the best-looking one on the stage.

Who we never hear of again.

They don’t need to do huge things when they’re done being the queen. But I’d like to see the celebration start after the tiara comes off. When they go to work. Become mothers. Become better, smarter, more real. Celebrate them on a national stage then.

Because that’s when women are really beautiful.

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16 thoughts on “The Ugly Truth

  1. My biggest complaint is how pointless the whole thing seems because nobody remembers these winners the next day. Other than a few famous winners, nobody remembers any Miss USA or Miss America winners. One other complaint is that we see them in swimsuits but we never get to see them swim. I want a strong swimmer representing my country!

  2. A friend of mine participated in one of these, and she said that the girls she was competing with were scary. The number who planned (or had already had) some sort of appearance altering surgery, who were on strict near-(or entirely)-anorexic diets, the number who spent thousands and thousands of dollars on participating… she found it sad and unhealthy, and once she was finished, she had no interest in participating again. She said that even as an ‘outsider’ she felt the pressure to maybe skip a few meals, lose a few pounds, and generally feel awful about her own body. Even the winner loses…

  3. Amen. Couldn’t have said it better myself. But now I am feeling a wee bit guilty for laughing hysterically whenever a fashion model wipes out on the runway. Can we agree that’s different? Because falling is always funny?

    • We can agree it’s different because falling is always funny… but we tend to enjoy it more when it’s a model because she’s supposed to have a ton of poise and confidence. So sadly, we must admit that we secretly think it’s awesome when she wipes out because it knocks her down a peg.

  4. Two of my daughters competed in one beauty type contest about 16 years ago, after that exposure, I totally stopped watching any type of pagent.

    Number one, it costs a ton of money in order to ‘compete’, you were encouraged to collect sponsorship money in order to participate and number two I found most of the people (parents and contestants alike) weren’t every nice. If you weren’t already part of the click then you weren’t accepted. Not something I wanted to continue to expose my children to.

    It really is time to do away with these types of ‘pagents’.

    • Thank you for your perspective. When I posted this, I was a little worried that I would offend someone who had been in pageants or whose child had. I’m glad that, if I did, they haven’t posted a comment. 🙂 But I’m also glad you made the point about how it costs a lot of money; that definitely goes along with my feeling that these pageants only “create opportunity” for women/girls who already have far more of it than most.

    • Thank you. I just wish the pageants weren’t so transparently looks-oriented. I could support them if they included more legitimate sizing up of character, intellect, potential and class.

  5. I’d be surprised if the number of people who still watch these pageants in this country hasn’t gone down steadily over the past ten years or so. I think we’re more aware of how women are viewed in other parts of the world, as second-class citizens, and these contests perpetuate that. I’m sure there are still a large amount of viewers, though.

  6. Your ending is so true about the really important things.

    But I don’t have a problem with beauty pageants. Beauty is just one gift or talent that some people have. I see more value in winning a contest like the National Spelling Bee, but that’s just me.

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