Girl. You’ll be a Woman. Soon.

neil diamondIt’s been an interesting 11 days with the #krewedecrown – the team of 8 Baton Rougeans who served as official Social Media Ambassadors for the Miss USA pageant.  I was exposed to an industry and experience which has never held that much allure for me beyond the dress-up games I played as a child.

I was a bit unsure about tackling this gig being neither a fan of the systemic objectification of women nor a proponent of promoting the princess as role-model. Capturing a crown by sashaying around in full hair and makeup and having super shiny white teeth seems so, I dunno…silly.

Then again I wholeheartedly believe that it’s not up to me…or other women…or men…. to tell any individual woman how to act, dress, behave, or live her life.  Feminism means allowing each individual woman to choose her course. It’s oppressive to dictate what women can’t do and it’s just as oppressive to tell them what they should want to do.  So if Brittany Guidry from Houma, Louisiana thinks gaining titles and crowns is important to her then she surely should have every opportunity to do so.

Choice feminism, right?  When a woman makes a choice for herself (what to wear, what career to pursue, when/if to have children) there are generally no negative consequences; she is doing her thing.  Making her choices.

But the young women who choose to enter the pageant world have started down a path that has ongoing societal consequences and implications; things that go way beyond their individual dream of living in a high-rise apartment in Trump Tower for 12 months. Venerating unrealistic physical loveliness and doing so in a venue at which we ‘crown a queen’ based on her stroll across a stage in ridiculously high heels and a bathing suit is troublesome in 2014.  While monitoring the twitter stream last night I saw comments from viewers including one from a television viewer (paraphrasing): “I wish I looked like that but I eat too much.”    

That’s some sad stuff right there.

Look…I like the sparkly and shiny. I too was caught up in the collective virtual orgasm (mostly females, a few males) that rippled throughout the BR River Center when the contestants came parading out in their evening gowns.  I stood on the red carpet (official duties) and marveled, albeit somewhat cynically, as holders of flawlessly luminescent skin and lush eyelashes posed in front of me for pictures.

We buy into this stuff.

But women have many more options in 2014 than they did in 1952 when the Miss USA pageant began as a local “bathing beauty” competition.  Sadly I didn’t see a whole lot of attention focused on individual contestant’s accomplishments, education or goals even though we are 62 years hence; the addition of evening gowns and bigger hair seems to have been the major adjustment to the competition since its days as a “bathing beauty” competition. While a number of contestants have attained undergraduate degrees, some are pursuing post-graduate degrees and others are working in professional roles, that didn’t seem to be as critical to judging their worthiness as whether or not they could shimmy and shake fetchingly while Marc Broussard played “Iko Iko” in a nod to Louisiana.   And sadly, from pageant organizers to media to hosts to attendees, the word of choice when referring to the contestants was “girls” which drives me absolutely batshit crazy.  Infantilizing. Reeking of “be a good girl” or “isn’t she a pretty girl?” Ugh.

These are women.  And each individual woman can – and should – make the choices that are right for her.  Power to the contestants if this is what they wish to do with their lives.

I would like us, however, to collectively make some changes – intentional changes – to this beauty world.  We need to step away from the bright lights and glossy lipstick and seriously think about the potential lingering effect this pageant world has on on girls and boys and women and men.  The glamorization of unrealistic and unattainable physical beauty coupled with the downplaying of real accomplishments and potential capabilities is maddening.

Over and out. Reporting live from the red carpet.

*********

image: flickriver via Creative Commons

17 comments

  1. Becky Craig says:

    Bravo, Bravo

  2. “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.”

    Voltaire

  3. stephenod72 says:

    Bravo indeed. Whilst I don’t know you well, Robin, I did wonder at the updates on the pageant I was seeing on Facebook.

    I agree entirely that whilst most the women who choose to enter these contests, do so willingly, and in full possession of the arguments, we cannot help but judge their choice. After all, what they are asking for, more than anything in my view, is to be judged by strangers against an arbitrary set of nebulous standards, and against each other.

    Intelligent and accomplished as many surely are, they ask not to be judged by the content of their soul, but by the smoothness of their skin, the symmetry of their features, and the by the gap between their thighs. To be successful, a woman must possess a shape which is rarely seen in nature, and can only be achieved though starvation, supplements, veneers, and a variety of structural support. If nature is the very definition of beauty, then surely this is its antithesis?

    In a world which already subjects all women to the kind of judgement we males usually start wars over, it remains a perversion to even allow some women to choose to degrade all other women in this way. I can only imagine the inner-workings of the male mind, which came up with this farcical con-trick in 1952. “I’d like to see women naked, and a bathing suit is as close as I can get. If only I could persuade enough gullible, feeble-minded women to parade for me and my friends, and allow us to select the ones we like best”

    Yes I am a feminist, and have written more on the subject here. http://ayeright.com/2011/12/why-do-women-stand-for-it/

  4. Maren Hogan says:

    This article brings up so many emotions, concepts and ideas. Yes, you’re right, the underlying philosophy of the pageant is troubling in its infantilization but watching someone name all the elements of the periodic table is hardly compelling television. It’s so frustrating as an emerging feminist to hear those who came (slightly) before me tell me NOT to let any patriarchal figure or order tell me how to live my life and then turn around and tell me how to live my life.

    “Smart girls don’t do this” is not THAT different than “Good girls don’t do this” and “Please don’t talk about your body issues” is not that different than “Please don’t talk about your feelings” and “Don’t participate in pageants for your uni money because it promotes the wrong ideals about femininity” is not that different from “Don’t participate in armed combat because it promotes the….wrong ideals about femininity”. I’m not attacking you or putting these words in your mouth, I was thinking about these things long before you wrote this very great post. Why do WE get to decide who/what/when/where/how?

    From my vantage point, it feels like we’re exchanging the “oppression” of dudes for the “discomfort” of women, and forcing the young women who are often in the middle of these debates to still, inevitably, be controlled by whims other than their own.

    • Robin Schooling says:

      @Maren – the key in ALL of this is that no one (you, me, the guy down the street, the preacher in his pulpit, the government) should tell individual women (or men for that matter) how to live their lives. Free choice should be free choice for all. If someone wants to participate in pageants, and an audience wants to watch pageants then go for it. I just think that we, as a society/species need to be aware that we continue to promote some troubling and unrealistic measures of worth when we embrace this. Also note – Miss USA (the one I did) has absolutely ZERO emphasis on scholarships or education; the Miss America pageant family is the one that awards scholarship money and has talent competitions. I DO have to give Miss American credit for that…makes Miss USA seem even more, well, ‘icky’….

  5. I see both sides of the argument here. You make some outstanding points Robin. I just want to say that I still think it’s nice to see girls being pretty or looking good in a swimsuit. In fact, as someone in my 40’s, there are certainly times when I try very hard to look good. Whether it’s dying grey hair, wearing makeup or donning a fancy dress, it IS fun for some women to do this. I just want to raise my daughter to know that her physical appearance is not the end-all-be-all and that her brains are what will get her a good life. I also want her to know it’s ok to feel pretty and to try to maintain a good physique if that’s what she finds important too. Great post!

    • Robin Schooling says:

      @Trish – I’m all about people trying to look good/nice/pretty; if I wasn’t I would have stopped shaving my legs long ago.. 😉

  6. Steve Levy says:

    Robin, parents teach what they know and what they believe to be true – and a large portion of society reinforces these precepts. Teachers, politicians, bosses, marketing experts – even HR – reinforce what many deeply believe to be true. Abandon ship! Women and children first!

    Yet gravity takes its toll on everyone and Botox and implants are no longer just for women. And pageants wouldn’t be on TV if there wasn’t money to be made…

    Perhaps it’s better to focus on women who are Marines, entrepreneurs, or UFC fighters. Because as far as I can tell, not only can they kick some ass but they all seem to look great doing it.

    Write about these women next and see how the comments differ.

    Oh, and Trish, as far as the grey hair – meow.

  7. Steve Levy says:

    Just read this:

    Report: How Many Women Get Groped by Men in Public http://bit.ly/1u14PFp (Comment: “My goodness. Human beings are awful creatures.”)

  8. Excellent article. The emphasize on beauty is everywhere. My twin girls constantly hear “you are so cute (adorable, pretty, etc)”. I even hear them mimic this with their play. As a mom, I want to teach them that beauty does not equal you are a good person. I tell them that being nice and smart is much more important than being pretty. Unfortunately in what they see and experience everywhere else, physical appearance is of greater value.

    • Robin Schooling says:

      @Raedawn – if I heard the word “sweet” to describe the contestants one more time over the course of the last two weeks I think I would have screamed….

  9. gerrycrispin says:

    Looks like this was a great learning experience. You’ll have years of relevant stories.

    I think the financial success of these events suggests just how deeply rooted our stereotypes for beauty and success are in the US. The difficulty we have in balancing the rights of individuals to accept these cultural memes or, to move down a separate path has enormous implications globally.

  10. Steve says:

    The thought of Crispin or ‘Cup in a recruiting-themed bathing suit has me all a-tither. You?

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