Don't Call Me a Pretty Face

After reading an article recently about Saphia Khambalia, a Ryerson student who is in the running for Miss World Canada, I was dissapointed. While I don't abhor the idea of beauty pageants, I disagree with trying to intellectualize them, as the runner-up tried to do. Claiming that she is a feminist, Saphia blasts common stereotypes, including the patriarchal, objectifying and looks- focused nature of pagaents. What you get from reading the article is an unconvincing attempt at arguing these opinions with faulty reasoning. Several things are true about beauty pageants. They are not musings but undisputable facts. Saphia claims that they are only myths.
Stereotype A: Beauty pageants are not about beauty. That's like saying Fish sticks aren't about fish, so I'm going to avoid mentioning the irony in that stereotype. Saphia points out that she has become a more media-savvy woman and that the experience was "career-enforcing", that it's not just about being a model in a ball gown. Ok, so contestants have to attend conferences, dinners and interviews. One small thing- the first and foremost requirement is that you have to be good looking. Is that a parallel in any way to the feminist way of thinking? She admits "all of my time is consumed by the aesthetic of the business...we are judged primarily on how we look...before we are judged on our abilities", only affirming the role of these pageants. Stereotype B: Beauty pageants objectify women. Rather than refute this claim, Saphia only offers her own experience. "It's true, parading around in a bikini and heels is objectifying..." Her argument implies that "the risque Victoria's Secret Models" do it, so why is it so bad that I'm doing it? It's not necessarily bad. But in doing so, you forfeit any argument that a beauty pageant is anything but what it's name implies. Also, you send the wrong mesage out to impressionable youth watching the program. This perpetuating image could be the cause for 12-year-old girls watching their calorie intake so they can look like the woman on T.V.
Stereotype C: Beauty Pageants are Patriarchal. Saphia flexes her feminist muscles by alleging that, through the competition's system, she has become more empowered and capable. It's interesting that there are beauty competitions for women but not for men. Think about it. Isn't the scenario of women strutting in front of a panel of judges objectifying enough, regardless of whether men are even in the picture? If it was empowering to women, there should be other ways of determing which lady would be the best ambassador and role model. Testing smarts, beliefs, values, and personlity is more important than how attractive you look in a bikini. If it wasn't patriarchal, the entire event would never have started in the first place. Why would women fathom a show where the contestants strut in bikinis?
She argues that her rhetorical skills in front of an audience are comparable, and often better than, those of a prime minister's. However, the prime minister has much more pressing and delicate issues to discuss than what his chances are in a beauty competition.
What angered me about this article was not so much the flaw in argument or the irrefutable nature of the topic. Here are the words that Saphia concluded with: "...the pageant system is a very realistic reflection of the paragon for today's woman...[and] is far less at fault for training women to fit this standard than the public in the outside world is..." The media is influential in building women's perceptions of themselves. It just so happens that the Miss Universe pageant last week had over 1 billion viewers tuned in. If not beauty, these events focus on building media attention.
By no means am I blaming solely the pageant or it's contenders for the lame standard of beauty or the objectification of women in our society. It is, however, adding to the problem. And to claim that it is at fault merely for reflecting an image of "woman" as already existent in culture is a futile argument. Would this romanticized vision exist if not for programs like "Miss Universe"?
Show me a healthy-sized contender, or one with braces. You can't because they don't exist. Does that mean that these women aren't as beautiful or capable as their "Miss. Whatever" counterparts? I'll leave that for you to decide.


Anonymous said...

Though I understand it was Saphia who was featured in the Eyeopener article, I find it unjustified that you focused only on her in this piece. Granted, beauty pageants may be all about superficiality, but compared to countless others, at the very least Saphia has a good head on her shoulders.

She knew quite well that entering this pageant would do wonders for her career, so give her a break for wearing a bikini and heels. Who can blame the girl for wanting to get ahead in the world?

I say, if you got it, flaunt it - and yes, she's got it. (And I'm not just talking about her body.)

I wish you had given her at least an ounce of credit... Come on now. Miss Teen USA South Carolina, anyone?

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