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Pageants vs Objectification: A realistic answer to age old debate

Sushmita Sen with her daughters Renee &Alisah

Sushmita Sen with her daughters Renee &Alisah

A few years ago Sushmita Sen gave an inspiring speech at the Lilavati Hospital’s “Save and Empower Girl Child” fashion show. During the speech Sushmita said that the time has come when women will rise. She was one hundred percent right! We are currently living in an era where women around the world are rejecting the patriarchy and are trying to build an equal society. Because of the ongoing feminist movement, the question as to whether pageants objectify women has once again started dominating the conversation. Although there is no denying that the pageants judge the contestants on the basis of their physical appearance, can that be called objectifying? And if not, is it fair to blame pageants for objectification of women?

Plastic Surgery

Let’s imagine a world where pageants didn’t exist at all. If the pageants are guilty of judging women based on their appearance, in a world without pageants nobody should care about their or anybody else’s appearance. Nobody should resort to cosmetic surgeries to enhance their body parts. And nobody should care about gaining or losing weight. Is that even possible? Even if pageants were not in existence, that wouldn’t guarantee a reality where looking a certain way did not matter. The fact is that no matter whether pageants existed or not, judging people based on their appearance is a basic human tendency. There is a reason why we are supposed to dress up a certain way for a job interview. There is a reason why corporate world requires you to obey to a certain kind of dress code. In fact the fashion and entertainment industries put a lot more emphasis on physical appearance as compared to the pageants.

Victoria’s Secret Models

Now we come to the everlasting argument about the relevance of swimsuit competition in pageants. One of the major accusations against the pageants is that the swimsuit round serves the male gaze. But pageants aren’t the only ones to use women as means of visual pleasure, are they? Victoria’s Secret (VS) Fashion Show is currently considered as one of the biggest showcase of fashion. Gone are the days when pageants were about portrayal of a physically perfect woman. Now-a-days that same task is handled by the likes of the VS fashion show. Thigh gap, concave stomach, bikini bridge and V-cut abs, all the unhealthy body trends can be traced during the VS fashion show. A lingerie brand which basically wants its customers to present themselves as sexual objects somehow believes that their fashion show is empowering! The brand has been promoting itself as a powerful tool to manipulate men. But isn’t it just another way of serving the male gaze? This year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue employed an all female team for the photo shoot. The magazine is calling it a feminist statement. A sports magazine which comes up with an annual issue featuring semi nude models for the pleasure of their male readers, that’s feminism for them. Just add a couple of plus size models to the mix and suddenly the slightly covered up version of playboy becomes empowering Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. But no! Since the VS fashion show or the Sports Illustrated belong to the mainstream fashion, we are not supposed to call their deeds objectifying.

The hypocrisy of the “mainstream” doesn’t end there! Why do you think Kardashian family is so popular? Every time Kim Kardashian appears on a magazine cover, it’s all about the shape of her body. A body that is certainly not normal even for a curvy women. If you think all those curves on the Kardashian clan are not made of silicone, you are fooling yourself. And then we also judge people for their looks on social media, don’t we! Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and basically every social media platform is all about looking perfect. When you swipe left and right on dating apps, tell me your decisions are not based on that person’s appearance. When you use filters on Instagram, tell me you don’t do it to look a certain way. So why blame only the pageants? If you really have a problem with objectification of women, stop all the things you are doing right now and start living in isolation where nobody can see you.

Yes, pageants do judge physical beauty. Pageant winners are popularly known as the ‘Beauty Queens’ and so the word ‘Beauty’ does come before anything else. The pageants are also the most transparent way of judging someone. Majority of the core viewership of the pageants comprises of women. All the major pageants around the world are run by women. So purely from a feminist point of view, pageants don’t serve the male gaze. They are rather a show run by women for women. Today many pageant organisers are afraid of the feminist movement and are trying to divert people’s attention by calling themselves scholarship programmes and charity events. If this trend continues, existence of pageant industry might come under question. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but a rational judgement depends on that person’s attitude. Selective feminism will only cause damage. If you really want to stop the objectification of women, change the attitude and you are good to go.

Author: Jinendra Aherkar

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  1. Instead of judging pageants for their level of objectification, you presented an argument that because society objectifies women, it’s ok for pageants to do so. Is it though?
    Miss World is the most evolved and progressive pageant and they still call themselves a beauty pageant, others are just pretentious. Miss America or Miss Universe can call themselves whatever they want, they still judge a woman from 2 minutes of stage time. And because Victoria’s Secret objectifies women and promotes an unrealistic image unapologetically doesn’t really make them any better. Presence of a larger evil doesn’t make the smaller pretentious evil good. Applaud beauty pageants for the good work they do, support them because they have every right to exist but don’t call their flaws inconsequential.

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