“Story” is the word which has gained significant relevance in pageants now-a-days. After the results of Miss USA 2017 pageant were announced, many former pageant girls expressed on social media that they won’t be competing in the Miss USA system anymore because they don’t have the “personal story” that the pageant organisers are looking for. Does this mean having a personal story involving dramatic ups and downs has become a prerequisite for Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants? Why all of a sudden the MUO started following footsteps of reality shows by focusing more on the unique backgrounds of the contestants?
Donald Trump and his campaign:
Mr. Trump’s announcement about his presidential campaign was probably the biggest turbulence faced by MUO in the history of the pageant. Although Mr. Trump sold MUO to WME-IMG, various revelations throughout the Trump Campaign kept sending shivers down the spine of pageant lovers. From his sexist and misogynistic comments about a former Miss Universe winner to allegations of misbehavior with the contestants, the Trump Campaign was full of disastrous claims about the Miss Universe pageant. Because of this WME-IMG was forced to do everything that they possibly can to distance themselves from Mr. Trump. As mentioned by Miss USA winners like Nia Sanchez and Olivia Jordan, the media was talking only about the Trump controversies and nobody was paying attention to the real advocacies and accomplishments of Miss USA winners. Hence WME-IMG needed a powerful distraction that will make the news media talk about the Miss USA or Universe winners in a positive way. This is where Deshauna Barber came into picture. Although we love Deshauna to the core, one could clearly notice how the Miss USA 2016 telecast was inclined towards the heroic active member of Military as compared to someone who was more into modelling. And it worked! After Deshauna’s victory most of the news media was celebrating her military background instead of grilling her about Mr. Trump.
The last few years in international politics and predominantly the American politics have been all about the “Diversity”. Having diversity of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation became a hot topic for every industry. Even the Fashion industry had to take diversity into account. The same fashion industry which was starving models to death to make them look skinnier was now embracing the models of all shapes and sizes. Even the latest edition of famous reality show “Project Runway” introduced plus sized models and modest Islamic clothing for its new season. So it wasn’t a surprise when the MUO appointed the plus sized supermodel Ashley Graham as backstage host for Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants. But MUO went even further than just appointing a curvy host. The occasionally curvy Miss Canada’s inclusion in top 10 of last year’s Miss Universe raised a lot of eyebrows. The Miss USA 2017 went even further and gave us an overdose of diversity. Although some people are extremely happy with pageants becoming more inclusive, in our opinion this is just a phase. Right now MUO needs to fit into the current trends of fashion and entertainment. But that doesn’t mean this trend will continue forever. Like what Heidi Klum always says “In fashion, one day you’re in and the next day you’re out.”
“Are pageants relevant anymore?” is the question that has been haunting the pageant organisers since ages. The term “Relevance” itself is subjective. What might be relevant for one person may not be relevant for someone else. In this case we can say “relevance” means popular opinion. And this is the area where the pageants are facing trouble. People at large have started questioning the caliber of pageant winners. There is a lot of negative prejudice in the mind of people about beauty pageants. In case of MUO things are more complicated as its pageants do not have a talent segment. This might have made MUO desperate to prove to the world that their girls are not just pretty faces; rather these are strong and independent girls who have overcome a lot of adversities in their lives. This is where the “infamous” background stories came into consideration.
Ratings are the means of bread and butter for pageant organisers like MUO or Miss America. Both Miss USA and Miss America have gone through the phases of low and high ratings. There was a time when in order to improve its ratings and to stay alive on a TV network, Miss America had introduced various dramatic elements to its pageant. Those attempts of bringing the so called “revolution” in its pageant system did not pay off for Miss America. Ironically the ratings started improving once the pageant decided to return to its roots. MUO needs to learn a lesson from Miss America’s hardships. This year the ratings of Miss USA pageant were the lowest in its history (on network TV). What’s the point of watching a pageant that does not have a proper swimsuit or evening gown round! Last year the Miss Universe pageant looked more like the Steve Harvey show than a pageant. But the fact remains that the Miss Universe and Miss USA pageants are with Fox Network now and they might continue focusing on dramatic back stories in order to bring some reality show like feel to the pageants.
In conclusion we must assert that every person has a story to tell. One just has to learn how to market that story in front of the judges. It would be unfair to compare people on the basis of their personal struggles. But then again, do we really live in a fair and square world? Exploring past achievements or struggles will remain a focal point in the upcoming Miss Universe pageant. The girls who have been competing in pageants for years need to find more interests outside the pageants. The definition of beauty is changing globally and so is the definition of a beauty queen. It’s up to you to decide how to fit into this definition. In the end, the world is all about survival and you will succeed if you have what it takes to help pageants survive.
-Article by Jinendra Aherkar.