Monday, August 23, 2010

The World of Pageantry - In Defense of Beauty Pageants

In approximately one hour, the Miss Universe 2010 pageant will be televised on NBC, as per the usual yearly routine. In light of tonight's broadcast, I'm set to write a brief defense on the misunderstood world of pageantry.

Because I shamelessly love it.

I have to say, I'm insanely excited for tonight's live event, as I usually am when a major pageant is televised. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've followed every major beauty pageant since I was 11 years old. I haven't missed a televised event of Miss Universe, Miss America, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA since the sixth grade. Except for when I got the chicken pox a few years ago, when I was sadly too sick (and itchy) to enjoy Miss America. (Boo! Hiss! Chicken pox!)

I don't know why I get so excited about beauty pageants. The glittery dresses, the lights, the music, the competition. Talent portions and the Final Question have always been my favourite, most likely because my own public speaking fears stand in awe at the articulate, expressive answers given by contestants within a challenging, pressure-filled atmosphere. Miss Universe is a particular pageant I enjoy for the sheer competition between participating countries. Seriously, it's like the Olympics. Only with inhumanly beautiful contestants (with medical degrees, no less!).

I see many people about to stone me with tirades regarding female degradation, pretension, shameless displays of corporate greed and selfishness, and the misrepresentation of average women. Before one casts the first stone, I think it's important to note that the world of pageantry has its good sides as well. I'm not overlooking its obvious failures: the politics, the bias, the bribery, the eating disorders, the catty contestants. I don't deny that they exist. There are clearly a number of young women stooping low enough to pull mean stunts to get ahead of the game, and many others who will risk their health and bodies for the sake of competition and reputation. I'll point out, however, that cattiness does not merely exist within the world of pageantry. Snobby (and competitive) women (and men!) exist everywhere. We run into them all the time. And while many women sadly put their bodies at risk, I don't think beauty pageants were originally intended to foster a politically charged atmosphere where one feels the need to protect his or her reputation and appearance at no cost.

On paper, I think beauty pageants are a great idea. They promote academic achievements, humanitarianism, and most importantly, for me, the importance of public speaking. I remember sitting at home as a young girl, watching in awe as Lara Dutta gave an incredible, articulate answer to the Miss Universe 2000 Final Question that inevitably led to her victory. I remember wishing I could speak just as well as she did, hoping that one day I could deliver speeches just as memorable and expressive. To this day, before I present in front of a large number of people, my mind still flashes back to Lara's articulate response. I've tried hard to emulate her skill.

Pageantry is not merely rooted in simply admiring a woman's physical attributes. Her mind, her words, and wisdom are taken into account immensely. They demonstrate talents that should be appreciated by many of us going into careers where we face public speaking everyday. Pageants are much like talent shows for grown-ups. They celebrate and crown the achievements of young women and provide sholarships and funding to study areas contestants have a passion for.

I realize this isn't a popular opinion for many who read this. But I'll thoughtfully point out that I truly believe the political and catty nature of pageantry has been its downfall. The original objective, mission, and vision of beauty pageants has been to encourage public speaking skills, to celebrate efforts that bring social issues to public attention, and to reward the achievements of young women who have accomplished what many haven't.

And if that means they get to walk around in super-awesome-glittery dresses, then I don't think we should have a problem with that. And if the woman is stunningly beautiful, then I see no reason to detest and hate her for it.

Appreciating someone for their beauty and mind can be difficult (particularly since the two concepts are popularly perceived to be mutually exclusive). But I think we should remember that beyond the politics, the bias, the controversy, pageants illustrate talents and skills important to one's career and academic pursuits. Skills that little girls all over the world will admire. And I don't see anything wrong with that.

"That which is striking and beautiful is not always good, but that which is good is always beautiful."
- Ninon de L'Enclos

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