Superficial Standards Cloud Reality of True Beauty

Emilia Caney, Opinions Editor

Beauty pageants not only are demeaning to women for judging someone on their looks, but they set unreasonably high and unrealistic standards, for young girls all over the world. Beauty contests teach girls that you need to be tall, stick thin, wear makeup to hide your imperfections, and dress a certain way to be beautiful. Imagine a little girl watching these contests. She’s being fed lies that beauty is being skinny and looking a certain way, and makeup makes you beautiful. This shouldn’t be what little girls grow up seeing because they grow up thinking this to be true and that can have a devastating impact on their self esteem.

The first modern beauty pageant took place in 1888 in Belgium, although competitions similar to beauty pageants have been around since the Renaissance Era. The Concours de Beauté (beauty pageant) in Belgium was originally created in order to find “the most beautiful girl on the planet,” according to Girls from all over the world were encouraged to submit photographs of themselves and a short written description. There were over 350 applications; from there, the judges, (consisting of mostly males) selected 21 of the applicants to appear in the actual pageant. These contestants wore long dresses and were judged mostly on looks, being asked a couple, if any, questions. Eventually, 18-year-old Marthe Soucaret, a Creole girl from Guadeloupe, was chosen as “the most beautiful girl on the planet.” She was rewarded with an impressive prize of $5,000, as well as appearing on the cover of French magazine L’Illustration.

Time passed and in 1921, pageants came to the United States, the first one being Miss America (followed by Miss World in 1951 and Miss Universe in 1952). In a majority of pageants, the layout of the competitions are the same: introductions, talent, swimsuit, formal, and the final test when the women are required to answer a series of questions (whether it’s about what’s most important to them or how they would change the world). Out of these categories, one has been controversial since its addition to the beauty pageant world: the swimsuit contest. The requirement for contestants to wear a swimsuit has always been a disputed aspect of these competitions. This began with the increasing popularity of the bikini after its introduction in 1946. The bikini was banned from Miss America in 1947, due to Roman Catholic protesters. It was not until the late 1997 that they became permitted again, but here we are, almost 30 years later and they decided to scratch it for good, creating #byebyebikini, and it’s about time.

Other small changes are also being made in the pageant world, such as pageants no longer going to be referred to as pageants, but rather competitions. The Miss America Organization also plans on shifting the judging away from outer beauty and focusing more on inner beauty, creating a wider variety of questions that gauge the competitor’s character. Executives plan on replacing the swimsuit portion with “a live interactive session with the judges” in which the contestants “will highlight her achievements and goals in life.” The organization even has a new motto: “To prepare great women for the world, and to prepare the world for great women.” They want to take steps toward encouraging the #MeToo movement since this movement was a huge factor in the death of the swimsuit portion of the competition. This has become prominent within the past couple of years, showing a woman should be judged on more than her looks. Who knows, maybe some of the contestants will look less like Barbies and more like actually people.

Fifty years ago, 100 feminists were throwing bras, girdles, curling irons, false eyelashes, and other “‘instruments of female torture’ into a trash can labeled ‘Freedom’” on the Atlantic City boardwalk in protest of Miss America, according to New York Times. The protesters had planned to set the can on fire, but sadly, they couldn’t get the permits. These women weren’t just being “feminazis” as many believe. These women were standing up for what they saw as sexist – mostly male judges scrutinizing women’s bodies. Women of color weren’t even allowed to compete for a long period of time. “Everybody tuned into Miss America back then. This was like the Oscars,” Alix Kates Shulman said, who was one of the organizers of the 1968 protest of Miss America. But, as time went on and feminism came to the forefront and the #MeToo movement came to light. Our current social media driven society has created a similar effect, not just on young girls, but for teenagers and even adults. Social media focuses on the girls they want to promote and once again an unrealistic idea of what beauty is created and spread. This can be proven with a simple search. If you Google “beautiful woman,” do you know what comes up? Mostly white, blonde, stick-thin women wearing makeup. Not many women of color. Not many women with curves. Not many barefaced women. Society, influenced by the Miss America competition, has covered up the image of true beauty by painting it over with prejudice and impossible standards that leave a majority of women unable to see their true beauty.

While pageants eliminating bikinis was big step toward improving the standards of beauty, society as a whole still has progress to make. Until most girls, no matter the size, hair color, skin color, eye color, feel comfortable and confident in their own skin, and a healthier perception of beauty is developed in society, it won’t be ideal. Hopefully the most girls can be changed to all girls with time. Society has so much improving to do, but the recent steps we’ve been taking, such as getting rid of the bikini and popularizing “plus” size models, is a step in the right direction.