Beauty and the pageant

“I want to apologize to all the women

I have called pretty.

Before i’ve called them intelligent or brave.

I am sorry I made it sound as though something as simple as what you’re born with

is the most you have to be proud of

when your spirit has crushed mountains.

From now on I will say things like, you are resilient

Or, you are extraordinary.

Not because I don’t think that you’re pretty.

But because you are much more than that.”

Rupi Kaur

Beauty pageants have been around for over a hundred years and are arguably still a big part of society today. These pageants can be construed in many different ways but often, people find themselves on one side of the debate or the other.

Hundreds of thousands of women enjoy entering pageants but there are also women who are heavily influenced by their parents and family to enter. One example is, Rania Milat, a girl whose family consider these beauty pageants to be just like taking part in a political election, highly regarded, classy and respected. Particularly in the middle-eastern culture, and so she was both expected and pressured to enter.

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In Rania’s opinion, “A lot of people suffer emotionally when they go in to these pageants because their family and friends think that they are very pretty and that they can win, but sometimes you don’t win and that breaks self-confidence.”

Rania Milat Sejaan, from Lebanon, won the Miss Lebanon Emigrant UK pageant in 2010 after moving to Britain in 2006. After winning the competition, she traveled to Lebanon to represent the UK in the overall Miss Lebanon Emigrant pageant. She also organised and presented Miss Arab UK for a number of years before deciding to quit.

Although Rania was once involved in this industry for years, she is now detached and able to see things from an outside point of view. “I don’t think anything in life is fair, let alone beauty pageants, they are really unfair. I was forced to do things that are not in my nature which is not very pleasant but I had to do it, I signed up for it.”

To have the ability to compete for recognition and prizes might mean a lot to some but what if this so-called opportunity leads to pressure to conform to an ideal female appearance?

There are more than 400 beauty pageants worldwide, with the majority in the United States. (Photo:

Often, there’s no in between for the way one feels about these contests. One of the questions on the negative side of the debate is; “Can you help how you were born?”

People often disregard the fact that these contests can be harmful to women seeing as many encounter eating disorders, withgo cosmetic surgery, and often drown in mental health issues as well as in emotional trauma.

Women, and even men in minor cases, compete with each other to represent their country. But what does beauty have to do with this cause?

If you want to go into politics, do it. If you want engage in charity work, do it. If you want to be an actor, do it. Entering a beauty pageant is not an easy path to achieve these end goals. But many people who enter see it as exposure and even networking.

Words such as ‘female empowerment’ and ‘self-confidence’ are constantly being reinforced by the organisers of these contests but they do nothing to solidify the aid to the liberation of women.

In France beauty pageants for children under 16 were banned in 2013. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Maysa Ismael, a sociologist from Goldsmiths University, said: “Beauty contests are celebrating the results of natural selection, where women are honoured for being beautiful, instead of their achievements. Beauty pageants set unrealistic beauty standards which can damage self-esteem. These contests limit beauty to physical appearance and reinforcing women as passive objects. This highlights the inequality and sexualisation of women that remains central in our society today.”

According to the Oxford University Press blog, the first recognisable beauty contest, was originally conceived in the mid-nineteenth century by the American showman P.T. Barnum, and took place in Delaware in 1880, which led to protests by the public.

A panel of “expert” judges, including Thomas Edison, were assembled to select the winner of the Miss United States title, which was created to promote the resort of Rehoboth Beach outside of the holiday season.

Miss Universe winner, 1930. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Modern day beauty pageants have gained acceptance leading to emergence of several pageants across the world. There are 4 of the most famous and the largest international beauty pageants: “Miss World” founded by Eric Morley in 1951, “Miss Universe” founded in 1952, “Miss International” founded in 1960 and “Miss Earth” founded in 2001 with environmental awareness as its main interest.

Many of these pageants advertise that they are ‘serving a cause’ in the forefront of their marketing to promote a positive message about their pageants. These contests have evolved to incorporate things like talents of the contestants, and judges questions; this is where the judges ask questions to the contestants to judge how they will express themselves. These standards have been raised to not only be a showcase of beauty but also intellect so that contestants can educate and influence in a local or even international setting.

The criteria for these pageants are still restricting. Under this oppressive nature and behind the beaming teeth, glamorous ball gown and sparkling tiara, is a poised person. A human, who was stacked along with other women, against one another ready to be judged on how pretty they are. Mesmerising but unsettling. A part of our not-so-pretty history continues as contestants proceed to parade back and forth in hope that they will become the next beauty queen.

By: Charline Bou Mansour, Vani Konjian, Alice Facchini, Mumbi Ng’ona and Miranda Tomlinson.

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