Confucius once said: “Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it.”1 Since the beginning of time, humans have always been judging others based on appearance. Despite the fact that we have accepted this human flaw, never until the invention of a beauty pageant have we willingly embraced it. Exclusively used for entertainment value, beauty pageants cause more harm than good due to their superficial nature. The male chauvinistic attitude behind beauty pageants makes objects of women and ultimately degrades them. These competitions are largely responsible for unnecessary spending as well as the promotion of false standards of beauty leading to serious issues in women linked to low self-esteem.
First of all, doesn’t the mere idea of awarding a woman a coveted title based on appearance seem superficial? Many defendants of such contests try to compare the pageants to the awarding of an athlete during a sports competition2. This defense is erroneous because there is a certain amount of skill and talent involved in most if not all sporting events. There is no such thing as a “talent” for being beautiful, therefore it seems illogical to objectively determine the “most beautiful” based on something given to us at birth. More beauty pageant enthusiasts claim that such events are beneficial to women as they encourage the idea of empowerment and self-confidence3.
As for the supposed “empowerment” that is provided to contestants of a beauty pageant, one cannot see how the losing women, that is to say ninety nine percent of contestants, can feel better about themselves after being told they do not deserve a title of beauty. If the idea behind the “empowerment” factor is that we are showcasing a woman’s success, this does nothing to advance the idea of woman’s liberation as we are simply promoting the idea that the most important quality in a woman is good physical appearance. Pageants provide an excuse for society to degrade women into mere objects that can be perceived as nothing more than bodies, not people.
This desensitized outlook is so outdated that it could even justify prostitution, domestic abuse and rape. By putting women in a position where they are evaluated based on beauty, society begins to believe that women are truly disposable objects, there to be critiqued without worry of hurt feelings because it is supposedly acceptable. From this, one can conclude that the judging of women’s beauty in such pageants demeans women.
The most popular beauty contest in the world, the Miss Universe Pageant, has been running annually since 1952, attracts around three billion viewers worldwide and awards a coveted prize of a two-year scholarship worth more than one hundred thousand dollars. As noble as the cash prize may appear, we must wonder how much money is invested by contestants of any beauty contest to provide for all their beauty needs such as cosmetic supplies, clothes, coaches, personal trainers, doctors, special food, etc… Furthermore, it is not only women that spend enormous amounts of money on the contests; governments and companies also play a huge part in the investment. In fact, the cancellation of the Miss Cambodia pageant was recently announced due to overwhelming poverty4.
The government could simply not afford to continue the contest when thousands were suffering. Hun Sen, the country’s premier stated; “No Miss Cambodia contest will be allowed. We need money to help farmers and to solve more important issues.”5 Another example of useless spending is showcased in Hungary. There, the surgically enhanced women of the Miss Plastics Pageant campaign to promote plastic surgery, causing the growing expenditures on cosmetic procedures despite the country’s finances having been hit hard by the global economic crisis6. All around the world millions of dollars are utterly wasted on embellishing women for them to conform to the pageants’ standards of beauty.
Humans have always been searching for the meaning behind “true beauty” and enthusiasts of pageants claim the events are merely exploring this important branch of philosophy known as “aesthetics”7. However, beauty contests promote monolithic standards, silencing any discussion of what is true beauty. Their winners all fit the same profile of Western ideals such as being tall, thin and blonde. Defendants may state that beauty pageants are not discriminatory because different types of contests exist for plus-sized women, short women as well as men. But are these contests really as frequent or as well publicized as the Miss America pageants? Never do we hear of an “ugly” winner because the standards of beauty set in place remain unchangeable. For any contestant, knowing the ideals they have to conform to causes an overwhelming sense of pressure.
The winners themselves are constantly scrutinized and expected to “keep up appearances” whereas the losers, whose appearance apparently did not fit the standards well enough, undergo a disastrous emotional blow. Not only do contestants feel the pressure but female audiences worldwide feel inferior knowing that supposed “true beauty” is unattainable for the standards do not allow for any deviation. Anorexia, bulimia, self-mutilation, mental health problems, depression and even suicide are side effects of low self-esteem brought on by pressure from beauty pageants8. The emotional, mental and physical suffering that women face due to unrealistic standards of beauty are largely due to the existence of beauty pageants, enforcing the idea they provide more harm than good.
Beauty pageants are nothing more than a parade of women there to be judged on their appearance. Degrading to women, a waste of money and fatal to women’s self-esteem, these contests remain an uncivilized way to entertain the masses. It is important to remember that although the contests may gratify a single woman for two minutes, true achievement can only be measured by a person’s acts and not their appearance. As Leo Tolstoy once said: “It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness”9. So amazing in fact, that human kind would continue for over a century to participate in the gross and harmful event that is a beauty pageant.