Does Miss Universe have a place in our feminist society?

As Miss USA, R’Bonney Gabriel, was crowned Miss Universe 2022 on the 14th of January, and a clip of Miss France introducing herself in a rather peculiar manner circles the internet, Fashion North are questioning what place these beauty pageants have in our modern society.

The world of beauty pageants is a foreign one to most of us, with our most in-depth look into them through reality tv shows such as Toddlers and Tiaras, or when they are mocked in our favourite films. But with a long-standing history, contests such as Miss Universe and Miss Great Britain are seemingly going strong.

Yet, now more than ever, our society seems to be addressing old-standing institutions that don’t fit with widely accepted standards of equality and empowerment of women. So, the question is, is Miss Universe next on our hit list?

The Miss Universe website advertises itself as an organisation that ‘exists to advocate for a future forged by women with courage to push the limits of what’s possible’, and yet comments on social media seem surprised by the existence of this contest in 2023. A society very different to the one in which it began 71 years ago in 1952.

The Miss Great Britain pageant recently added further categories, such as Ms Great Britain and Miss Great Britain classic, in a move towards a more inclusive contest, However, this could be seen to exclude age ranges and body types from the original title of Miss Great Britain.

Miss Great Britain at the New years day parade in London
Image credit: Alamy

The pageant began in 1952, a time when women were expected to be housewives and not always seen as equal to men, when women were often seen as ‘just a pretty face’. So, a beauty competition that hails from this era seems a bit archaic in our modern world that constantly pushes for progression.

To call a woman ‘just a pretty face’ would be demeaning and sexist in our current climate, and yet to most of us, a beauty pageant is based on that concept.

Former Ms Great Britain, Kat Henry said: “Nowadays the concept of taking part in a pageant is down to an individual’s desire to participate for a variety of reasons, rather than to be deemed as the “fairest in all the land.

“Women compete to use their platforms to evoke positive change in society and challenge negative stereotypes. Others get involved to thrive in philanthropic and charitable work, some take part to enjoy the thrill and buzz of being on stage and being glam.  Some compete for the strong bonds and friendships made within the pageant community, whereas others compete to push their own limits and increase their own confidence.”

But can something that is, despite its reinventions, judges women based on their appearance ever be empowering? Or does implying that beauty isn’t empowering contradict with the notion of feminism anyway, by suggesting that beautiful women cannot also be valued for their intelligence, strength of character and philanthropic pursuits?

Henry added: “I think pageants have an important role in society today as collectively we all stand to prove that it is not all about the beauty aspect, there is far more to pageantry than meets the eye.”

Let us know your thoughts @Fashionnorth



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