Life : Oglers & Tiaras : Helen Razer Talks Pageants
We all have shallow moments. When a lady of my faint acquaintance told me she had been invited to judge a regional heat for the Miss Universe competition, I was reminded just how shallow some of my own moments can be.
Upon learning that an associate is to judge a pageant, a civic-minded person might say, “Well I hope you told them to shove their parade of emptiness and wee-weed on the invitation.” Instead, shallow Helen said, “awesome”. Followed in intimate proximity by, “Can you get me tickets? I would just die.”
Sadly, it was not to be. For another year, Australia’s best bikini bodies will be painted a vibrant chicken tikka colour without the benefit of my applause. This is the industry’s loss, I think, as I am very lively in my appreciation for beauty pageants.
Many ladies, of course, are not so supportive of Miss Universe and her various leggy relatives. In fact, since the birth of the beauty contest, ladies have been tut-tutting. Back when the famously dodgy P T Barnum first held such a competition, the upright ladies of the mid-nineteenth century protested on moral grounds.
A century later, a famous action against beauty pageants unfolded. The 1968 Miss America protest garnered international attention. If you read about this watershed moment in feminist history, you have to admit, those girls had game. Outside, women threw girdles and false eyelashes into a “freedom trash can” and sang parody songs with lyrics like “”Ain’t she sweet; making profits off her meat”. Inside, a few undercover “women’s libbers” who had bought tickets to the event screamed, unfurled banners and let off an actual stink bomb. Hilarious.
Of course, it’s so easy to understand why women would protest this carnival of smiles and slender silhouettes. The tight-laced ladies of the nineteenth century were concerned that their gender would be brought into “disrepute”. The unlaced ladies of the 1960s were bothered less by reputation and more about the narrow range of possibilities they felt the then very popular Miss America competition represented to women. Beauty was a shackle, they said, that must be refused! How could a girl change the world, after all, if she was gussied up like a Christmas Tree?
If we’d been around at the time of this protest, you and I might very well have joined in. Even if you hadn’t lit the stink bomb, you might have quietly applauded these brave women who dared to say, “NO! We will not have our sisters assessed in their swimsuits.” In 1968, Miss America was not just something that happened on TV. The fact of a lady’s appearance being absolutely indivisible from her person was something women tolerated every day.
Of course, as comments in press about our Prime Minister attest, this undue focus on lady-looks has not dissolved. But, it has diminished to the point, I think, where many of us can actually leave the house without an uncomfortable uniform of girdle, false lashes and pan-stick and not feel as though we’ll be charged with criminal grooming. We have fought for and won the right to not give a shit.
And this, I think, is why I like beauty pageants so much. It’s not because they’re a living, breathing proof of the prison of feminine beauty anymore; it’s more that they’re a relic.
Every year, Miss Universe attracts fewer viewers. Miss World attracts fewer still and is now voted for by SMS. The Australian finals of these events aren’t televised at all and damned if I can ever find my favourite beauty pageant on telly or online which is, of course, the tear-spattered My Little Pony Horror of Miss Teen USA.
Pageants are so camp and so old-fashioned that they belong in a museum. These women who speak like polite automatons of World Peace and dress in gowns normally acceptable only at drag shows are not of our time. This, I think, is what I love about them. The fact that they don’t actually exist makes me happy.
Once in Sydney, I looked through the glass at a convict uniform such as my ancestor Nicholas might have worn when he was transported to Australia in 1805. I thought of his hardship and I thought of my fortune and I then I thought, “Look how far we’ve come”. I feel the same when I see the ladies in the swimsuit competition. I feel like I’m looking at a prison in which we used to rot.
But, as the ladies of Australia make their way these next few months through the heats of Miss World and Miss Universe I wish them only the best tans and the greatest success. And, of course, World Peace.
Helen Razer is an occasional broadcaster, frequent writer and incessant yabber-pants. Follow her on twitter at @HelenRazer or read her blog Bad Hostess.
Are you a secret pageant viewer? Or are you out and proud? Or are pageants a total no-go for you?
Images : Damian Shaw : Source: The Sunday Telegraph