The Miss America Pageant was this past week. Did you watch it? I didn’t. I saw that it was on and for a split second I thought, really? We’re still doing this? How are we still doing this in 2012? I posted the question on my Facebook page and asked friends to enlighten me as to why this is a good thing. No one did, though a friend actually wondered why it wasn’t a good thing. I don’t think she was being sarcastic. In the off chance there are more of you out there who are not sure why beauty pageants aren’t a good thing, this post is for you. This is my Top 10 reasons, Letterman style, why beauty pageants are bad.
- It’s. a. beauty. contest. It rewards women for being pretty! We’re done here.
Kidding aside, this is a real issue. At its heart is the notion that we have created a societal norm, the beauty pageant, that says to everyone, hey, it’s not only okay to judge women for their looks, it’s a celebratory occasion. Yes, there’s a question at the end of the contest, after we’ve been judged on our looks in regular wear, evening wear and swim wear, but we all know the question is more of just a pulse check than anything else. As one friend on Facebook pointed out, the audience actually clapped when one contestant knew who our Vice President was. We clapped for that.
If you are still wondering what’s wrong, let me answer your question with a question. Why don’t we have beauty pageants for men? My husband said because no one would watch it. I disagree. I would line up to get on my couch and catch that. And I know for a fact my girlfriends would, too, along with a few men I know. Why? Because it would be frivolous and ridiculous and funny. Because I would be permitted for a few hours to shamelessly value my fellow human beings for something completely superficial, valueless and, might I add, completely out of their own control, given that plastic surgery is forbidden.
We don’t have male beauty pageants because bottom line is, they would make men appear stupid. Like this girl. Remember her? The epitome of my anti-spire (my new word, meaning one I don’t aspire to).
And so, there is the double standard. Not okay for men. Perfectly fine for women.
And you wonder why women still make less than men for the same qualifications and work. And you wonder why there are still laws on the books that make it illegal for a husband to rape his wife. And you wonder why Colin Powell was never once asked about his hair style, while Hilary Clinton has never once not been asked. These things are related. I say, these issues exist because we’ve all grown up valuing women for their looks (and bodies I should say) first, before anything else, and, we often don’t go any further than that.
When you value someone for their looks, you rob them of the opportunity to be valued for anything real they have to offer – anything they can actually create, think, say, or do. It’s like valuing them for breathing. It’s meaningless and yet, it has so much power. When we, as a society say it’s okay to value women for their looks and celebrate that and that alone, it minimizes our value in every other aspect of life. What’s worse, it has made us slaves to our looks. It has been proven to have stolen aspiration from young girls (see the Dove campaign), and it robs brilliant aging women of realizing their full potential. Smart, celebrated writer Olivia Goldsmith (The First Wive’s Club) died on the table while having liposuction done to improve her appearance. Of the millions of morbidly obese phenomenal male writers out there, how many of them have we lost to liposuction? I can assure you, none.
To those of you who say beauty is power and beautiful women can be smart, I fervently agree. I am not arguing that. But I challenge you to understand the word beauty in either of those phrases, as I understand it. Good luck. Hint: it’s not some t.v. network or movie company or magazine convention. What I am saying is, the whole rubric of life is effed up because we have this long history of valuing women for looks and the pageant only reinforces it. So, enough already. Let’s end this. Stop watching it. Let’s try to learn to see women for who they are and what they bring to the table. Let’s evaluate them for the change they make in the world, for the influence they have on our children, for the contribution they make in society.
P.S. Let me be clear: Let’s not all start burning our bras. Those are important, necessary inventions that help women run the world. Just don’t pick one that makes you look like Madonna during her blonde ambition tour. That may send the wrong message.