When it comes to the idea of beauty pageants (for adults), the feminist in me isn't exactly outraged, but I can't help but think that the patriarchy is at it again. After all, even though Miss USA contestants do get to answer interview questions in less time than it takes to tie your shoes (and they're about, oh, reopening the U.S. embassy in Cuba and how to remedy race relations in the United States), it's a beauty contest for a reason. It's pretty much inevitable that the contestants will be sexualized as they face strict scrutiny from a panel of judges, and that sends a tough message to young girls. Regardless, on Sunday it will be that time of the year again, and there are plenty of reasons that, as a feminist, you shouldn't watch the Miss USA Pageant and one very important reason why you should.
It's important to mention that, regardless of individual opinions about the pageant, the contestants do deserve credit for their hard work and talent. Competing in a pageant is not inherently un-feminist, and it doesn't have to be a degrading experience. Still, the backlash against pageants is rooted in the desire to ensure that women are equal members of our society and recognized as whole human beings. Miss USA is making some changes this year to move toward that ideal, which is encouraging, but problems do persist.
In summary, there are more than a couple reasons you may want to just skip it altogether, but at least one good reason you may want to at least DVR it for later:
Beauty Pageants Are Linked With Eating Disorders
First, the bad news. Martina M. Cartwright, an adjunct professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Arizona, wrote for Psychology Today that a focus on physical appearance in children who participate in pageants is more likely to result in significant struggles with body image, dieting, and eating disorders even into adulthood. A pageant is a "hypercritical environment" that presents participants with an "unattainable goal of physical perfection," Cartwright suggested.
I certainly believe that consenting adults should feel empowered to participate in pageants and proud of their decision to do so, but I definitely do not want to contribute to an situation where participants feel less than or begin to hate their bodies because of the emphasis other place on the perceived importance of attractiveness, thinness, etc.
Pageants Can Distort Our Idea Of What "Beautiful" Means
Writing for The New York Times, author Courtney E. Martin succinctly described why pageant beauty doesn't come close to encompassing all the aspects of what beauty really is:
Let’s face it: the most beautiful women you’ve ever encountered would be total losers in a traditional pageant. That’s because authentic, messy, transcendent beauty can’t be scored. It isn’t tamed, plucked, planned, premeditated or rehearsed.
It's true. I'll be the first to admit that all the women competing in this year's Miss USA contest are incredibly beautiful, they do fit into a very specific mold: thin, tall, and heavily made-up. Girls and women need to know that diversity is beauty, whether that be differences in body type, hair color or texture, whether a person is handicapped or not, and so much more.
Pageants Promote The Sexualization Of Girls & Women
A recent survey found that nearly half of girls between the ages of 11 and 16 in the United Kingdom would consider cosmetic surgery to improve their appearance. It's no secret that unrealistic representations of what bodies should look like in popular culture contribute to both women and girls' negative feelings about their own bodies, so anyone watching the pageant needs remember that its contestants are not the norm by any means. More importantly, their bodies are not the holy grail that we should all aspire to. We should celebrate them for who they are, and appreciate ourselves for who we are, too.
Donald Trump Used To Own It
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump briefly owned the entire Miss Universe organization before selling it in 2015. While that in and of itself may not warrant boycotting the Miss USA pageant on Sunday, it gives me quite the icky feeling. Maybe it's because of the mogul's blatant, unabashed, and near-constant displays of misogyny.
For example, he called Fox New anchor Megyn Kelly a "bimbo", disparaged the physical appearance of then-opponent's Ted Cruz's wife, Heidi, and called Rosie O'Donnell "crude, rude, obnoxious, and dumb" on Twitter, just to name a few.
Somehow, the fact that Trump once owned a contest that's know for sexualizing and sometimes belittling women just doesn't sit well with me.
And The One Reason You Should Definitely Tune In...
Despite all the issues associated with beauty pageants, this year's co-host, Dancing With the Stars alum Julianne Hough, told Entertainment Weekly that she worked with the event's organizers to make sure that viewers will get to see a more well-rounded view of the contestants, and there will not be broadcast footage of them in their hometowns and at their jobs.
“You want to humanize it a little bit, and really get to know the girls,” she said. “I think that’s part of why we thought of it as a physical beauty competition, because we didn’t get to see these girls and the lives that they live... we get to see someone for who they truly are without all the makeup and dresses on."
I'm certainly not against pageants for adults, because women simply should not tell other women how to be or what to do. And, for me, the anticipated changes for the 2016 Miss USA pageant are a major step in the right direction. By portraying the women as whole people, viewers will see that even to the contestants, life is not all about striving to achieve a beauty standard that society dictates. The contestants, and all of us, should remember that there are so many definitions of beauty, and not all of them are physical.