Saturday, June 10, 2006

"And they royalty rate all the girls like you, and they sell it out to the girls like you, to incorporate little girls." - Hole, 'Awful', Celebrity Skin

Last night, I went on an anti-beauty pageant protest outside the venue that was hosting this year's Miss Brighton. I stood in the baking heat behind a banner that read We are not beautiful, we are not ugly, and we will not be judged, and enjoyed some sisterly solidarity with the fabulous women from Sussex University Women's Group (a big shout-out goes to Sophie who masterminded the whole thing). We chanted, we handed out leaflets to passers-by, we posed for photos, and we debated with the odd sexist asshole who honestly couldn't understand why objectifying women is a bad thing.

I think the most interesting part of the whole evening was the dialogue we had with the contestants themselves. Last year's Miss Brighton actually got involved with beauty pageants when she was writing her dissertation on them from a feminist angle, but the more she explored, the more she found something that she felt empowered her. Another woman, who was standing outside, ushering the wannabe Miss Brightons into the building - and only at a beauty pageant would she have been doing this whilst wearing a stunning blue ballgown - actively engaged in conversation with us, telling us that she supported our stance and not to be put off by our handful of critics. I overheard more than one entrant commenting that it made the whole event a bit more exciting. These women have brains as well as bodies, and I find it so frustrating that they're exerting so much time, energy and money on a contest that doesn't care.

The whole event was a cattle market. It places explicit value on women only for how they look - or how they engineer themselves to look. It was a steady stream of skinny, tanned women in a ballgown and an inch of make-up, hair straightened and any semblance of individuality erased. All the women I saw were white, and all of them conformed to a very exacting standard of beauty that I find so limiting. I didn't recognise myself in any of these women. We were told that they were role models, but none of my role models parade around in bikinis purely for the visual appreciation of others. Except possibly Wonder Women, but she does it while fighting crime, which is slightly more acceptable to my feminist sympathies.

The winner of Miss Brighton will go onto the final round to compete for the title of Miss England, who will then enter the Miss World contest. I don't want my country or my gender to be represented by lipstick and a tiara. If we're having a contest that promotes the image of women, why can't we have one for the best mathmatician between 17 and 24, or the best poet or the most committed charity worker instead? Why do we feel the need to promote competition between women, when all our mainstream media is telling us that we should be rivals anyway?

Beauty isn't about who's thinnest or blondest or bulges out of a bra in the most appealing fashion. I stood outside the Grand Hotel yesterday, red and sweating in the very un-British heat, all unshaven armpits and unwashed hair. I stood and made my voice heard with a group of women who didn't care if they fitted into a strict, patriarchal standard of beauty. And I felt gorgeous.

9 Comments:

At 5:14 PM, Blogger the roommate said...

I am a bit torn on the beauty contest thing. Part of it is an old argument with myself, that once I resolve maybe i can start arguing with others, about whether natural intelligence is any more the "real" me than my natural appearance...I don't know. The other part though, is the scholarship money. A friend of mine from school proudly participated in beauty pagents. It made her feel more confident, and she was one of the most confident women I knew not just in looks, in brains as well. It also allowed her to pay for an expensive college. I know this is the stereotype often used about strippers-the working mom, the one paying for college, thne shy girl who gains confidence, but I do believe that our bodies are ours and we can use them how we wish. On the other hand, there is the role model issue, and that one bothers me a lot. I guess I wish pagents accepted a wider standard fo beauty in terms of weight, skin color, height...As they are (from what little I know) they are horrible, in my opinion, because they impose one standard-the objectifying is a more complex issue to me.

 
At 5:26 PM, Blogger Kaite said...

My concern is, though, that women's self-confidence shouldn't just come from male approbation. I understand the financial reasons behind some women doing it - I had a friend who raised three kids largely from the money she earned dancing at a strip joint. I just don't think this is empowering or acceptable.

 
At 6:21 PM, Blogger Girl Politico said...

Yeah, but babe, unshaven armpits? *shudder*

 
At 8:47 PM, Blogger Kaite said...

Yeah, but you still think I'm hot.

 
At 8:59 PM, Blogger Girl Politico said...

Yeah, so? Even hotter if I don't have to force my eyes to skip over the pit hair :p

 
At 11:26 PM, Anonymous laix said...

what is all this cr*p about womon's bodily hair.......the amount of time energy and money womon spend on these depilitary activities surely must shorten their lives, expotentally.
Who cares???????Womon need to stop pandering to their mirrors and mates and get real.....

 
At 8:45 AM, Blogger Kaite said...

Tell me about it. I caved over the armpit hair issue and I'm kinda angry with myself.

 
At 12:42 PM, Blogger Girl Politico said...

Yes, but in your case it's not a societal issue, it's something you know your partner doesn't actually like and so sometimes you make a compromise

 
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