The beauty of it all: Pageants are in the news because we keep them there

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL September 19, 2013
miss-beauty-pageant-gorgeous-lady-30726616Now that everyone’s getting steamed up about the various beauty pageants underway, just concluded or in the works, here’s the redoubtable Betty White’s recipe for beauty: Get at least eight hours of beauty sleep. Nine if you’re ugly.

That’s good advice for beauty pageant contestants and everyone else with an overly strong opinion about the Miss Muslimah contest that concluded yesterday; the fact that an Indian-American won Miss America; that the slightly raddled 72-year-old Miss World competition is nine days away from picking a winner and France’s attempt to ban the “hypersexualizing” Mini-Miss face-offs.

The beauty of it all is that there’s an inherent fascination – for the last 25 years, possibly an appalled fascination – with the concept and reality of the beauty pageant.

All too often, the fascination is with the seemingly bizarre. The Miss Muslimah contest, the first international outing of the two-year-old Indonesian pietyfest, is a case in point. When religious scholars and devout Muslims picked Nigeria’s Obabiyi Aishah Ajibola as the winner, it might have seemed odd to see a demurely headscarfed woman weeping tears of joy and fervently reciting the Koran.

But the beauty-in-faith idea is not new. Remember Miss Sister World in 2008? Had the Italian priest who proposed the idea not cancelled it, the world might have seen something like the Miss Muslimah finale from the most beautifully pious Catholic nun of them all.

The fascination extends from the bizarre to the conventionally beautiful, or at least, the sculpted, beach babe version. The protests in Bali, where Miss World is tremulously staying the course till its September 28 conclusion, keep the contest in the headlines. Else, would there be more than a prurient interest in an event that critics argue reinforces the idea of women as objects and preaches an unattainable idea of beauty?