This week’s blog post is going to be a little different. Although I love doing interview-style blogs, it is sometimes difficult to find people that have experienced the topics I am delving into each week. Fret not, though, my friends, I am still going to be going into each topic wholeheartedly. I also think this will add some variety to my blogs, so that you all aren’t reading the same type each week!
Pageants in the Media
Everyone has seen the TLC series Toddlers & Tiaras at least once in their life or at least has heard about it. If not, this show is about children who compete in beauty pageants. The girls (and sometimes, boys) are from newborn to age 10. The show has created much controversy over the years. In 2012, a child that had been featured in the series was in a custody hearing in which a court-appointed psychologist was needed. “Children adorned with pageantry identities are not ‘playing’ or ‘pretending.’ Instead, they are trained to closely resemble their adult counterparts,” she says. Most of the negativity that stems from the show is whether or not the mothers who put their children in the pageants are expressing themselves through their children. As well as, the idea that the pageants are objectifying and sexualizing young girls. The TLC series has outraged many people over the world because they are “robbing children of their innocence for ratings”.
Furthermore, Netflix recently released an original movie called Dumplin’. The show depicts the story of Willowdean Dickson, a plus-sized teenager from a small town in Texas. Her mother is a former beauty queen and the director of the town’s annual pageant. As a ploy against her mother, Willowdean signs up for the pageant. However, her plan backfires, and she ends up starting a revolution with other unlikely girls joining the pageant with her. The movie shows how the pageant industry and her mother’s heavy involvement in it affected Willowdean as a teenage girl. In the end, however, she becomes more understanding of pageants and has an appreciation for them, in a sense.
Similarly, the 2000 movie, Miss Congeniality, goes into the investigation of the Miss United States pageant. In order to get intel, the agents must go undercover. Gracie Hart, being the only female on the team that “looks the part” has to be the one to go undercover and participate in the pageant. Ironically, she is a tom-boy and has no interest in being a beauty pageant, as they go against her feminist beliefs. During the pageant, Gracie teaches a self-defense method and tries to stay true to her beliefs, but later, when asked if she thought pageants were “outdated and anti-feminist”, Gracie responded with, “Well, I would have to say: I used to be one who thought that. And then, I came here, and I realized that these women are smart, terrific people who are just trying to make a difference in the world. And for me, this experience has been one of the most rewarding and liberating experiences of my life.” Although the movie is fictional, I think it speaks to how society has these negative ideals that beauty queens are all beauty and no brains, or that they do, in fact, objectify women.
Body Standards in Pageants
Pageants are a big part of the beauty industry in that, to enter a pageant, or to even have a chance at winning, you have to have a certain body type. Now, there are plus-size pageants, but they aren’t as commonly known, and there is also no integration of body diversity in a single pageant.
In 2017, full-figured model, Ashley Graham, hosted the Miss Universe pageant, but that didn’t keep her from criticizing the event for not having any curvy contestants compete in the international competition in the 60 years of its existence. She says, “I think it’s important that we continue to show diversity of all sizes, ethnicities, backgrounds, and religions, so, for me, I’m here to show diversity of size. Because not yet have we had a curvy girl in Miss Universe or even in the Miss USA pageant.”
In addition to the body standards placed upon women to compete in pageants, there is also usually a swimsuit portion of the competition, in which women are judged for their body and how physically fit they are or aren’t. As well as, judging them for their makeup and overall outer facial appearance. This is added pressure for women to be “perfect” which is objectifying women.
However, that is not all that pageants focus on. Some pageants require many essays and/or interviews, so participants do have to have the “brains”, as well. Unfortunately, most of the time, they are coached to say certain things in order to win, despite their actual beliefs. For example, the age-old “world peace” cliche. Many women don’t believe that is actually achievable or the biggest issue to change. But there are some pageants that are also scholarship programs, which in some cases, may be the only way a girl can pay for college. However, pageants are so expensive to win that it basically defeats the purpose of making it a scholarship program.
Pageants That Hit Closer to Home
I did extensive research on the beauty pageant industry, but I figured that insight into the local pageant world would further the relativity. I sat down with fellow MSA literary, Kerri Bland, a former pageant participant, to discuss what they are like on a more local level.
What has your experience with pageants been like?
“The pageants I did were in junior high, around 7th or 8th grade. I had to go to training. Essentially, there’s a certain you have to carry yourself. For me, personally, I had to go to a training session with a person who competed in their younger years. I would have to put on heels and walk in circles and lines, just basic things. I even learned how to wave my hand the right way. She also once told me that some girls would put Vaseline on their teeth to keep them smiling. It’s so physically straining to wear both a form-fitting dress, heels, all of it. The physical effects are so negative.”
How was the actual pageant and competition?
“The actual pageant itself wasn’t bad even backstage. I’ll admit, it was a very social experience. I do not have any bad experiences behind the stage. On stage, you could tell the audience was filled up with a fanbase for certain people. Anytime a certain girl walked across stage, her boyfriend and his friends would scream, or the families. You could the families that were a little bit more supportive or overbearing, in a “if they don’t win, I’m about to throw a trophy across the room” kinda thing. And in the end, the winner was the same people who had won the previous year, and the year before that, and the year before that. But all of the pageant girls were very accepting toward me. I got to meet a lot of people that I, otherwise, would not have talked to, and they were very assuring.”
What do you think the judging system is based on?
“Whether it’s based on beauty, I don’t know. I know some people believe there’s a bribery system involved or favoritism. In a school pageant, I can’t really tell you. There’s many things involved in that. Larger scale pageants, though, I am not as familiar with those.”
Was it a diverse group of girls?
The majority of them were white and skinny. Not all of them were white, but then again, I went to a predominantly white school.”
I know that you now do cosplay and compete, how does that mimic or differ from beauty pageants?
“It’s really the same with few exceptions. With cosplay pageants, instead of buying a dress, you’re making an outfit. You’re putting in the actual production and design technique. Even then, you still have to learn how to carry yourself across the stage. They’re really basing you off of your talent, but instead of going up and tap dancing, you are showing them progress pictures of the things you’ve designed and made.”
Do these pageants build a community?
When you put yourself out there, people are getting to know you and you’re getting to know them. They’re getting up close and personal and seeing all of what you’ve put in. Yes, it is a community. They’re not judging you either. It’s not judging a book by its cover, it’s judging a book by its contents.”
Do you think beauty pageants build a community in the same sense, or is it just girls competing with each other?
“No matter what you’re in, there’s always going to be a competitive aspect to it. There’s always going to be someone that feels like they have to win or they’re not good enough or that pageants are their life or that if they don’t win, they’re a failure. For the majority of people, specifically in pageants, I think they are doing for the love of that. Not because they want a crown, but because they love getting up on stage. Or at least, just for me, because I don’t do it for the crown. I do it to meet people, to meet judges, and for the overall experience.”
Are Beauty Pageants Objectifying Women?
The very question that started this conversation. Whatever your opinion is on the matter, the fact is: beauty pageants are mainly focused on the superficial qualities of women. However, pageants aren’t some mandatory requirement of being a woman. It is a choice. To compete in a pageant is a lot of hard work, time, and money. It’s a big deal, and women should think long and hard before entering one. But again, at the end of the day, pageants are a choice. If pageants make just one woman happy and gives her the confidence to be herself, then there’s no problem. I do, however, think there’s a problem within the system of pageants. From swimsuit evaluations to facial appearance ratings, the system is flawed— just like the seemingly “perfect” women that pageant judges fish for.