Miss Universe Attempts To Compensate For Its Past


Could it be that the Miss Universe empire really does favor about beauty over brains?

It was last week, the day after ideaCity, a Toronto-based conference, had ended, and a nice brunch was held. The conference was quite the enlightening, inspiring experience. To an overwhelming point, actually, so I was glad that the 12 hours a day, 3 days long, idea-sharing part was over, so I could give my brain only mini bagels to think about, and could discuss with some of the other 65 or so speakers all the ideas that had been shared in the days before.

I found myself talking with a small group of people about how bizarre it was that Miss Universe Canada had been onstage at the conference to read the winning numbers for a raffle. The theme this year was women, and while I’m slightly iffy about things like Women’s Appreciation Day, the conference, for the most part, did a good job of being celebratory, not condescending. But as I pointed out the hypocrisy in its advocacy for an anti-feminist beauty pageant, one man in the conversation called over a friend of his to listen.

The friend pointed out that pageant winners aren’t chosen just because they look good in a bathing suit, and that they have to be smart, and that it’s for a scholarship. I said a bathing suit shouldn’t play any part when deciding who gets a $100,000 education. “Well you know, I love my fashion, I love my supermodels,” he began, going on to say that models are chosen just for their looks. I said that that’s because they’re supposed to be mannequins, and girls aren’t told to look up to them as role models, as is the case with pageant winners. He said girls look up to models anyway, and that if they look up to a Miss Whatever, they’ll at least have an example of someone who speaks and displays intelligence as part of her job.

And there was my problem with having a beauty pageant winner onstage to read raffle numbers. She wasn’t given a platform to display her intelligence; she was just reading a bunch of numbers off a slip of paper like a really tan, really blonde robot. She was dressed up and pampered with every hair in place to come play Price is Right car girl for us — to be put on display.

The friend nodded and grinned and said, “you’re right,” and after a couple more minutes of small talk was making his way somewhere else. The argument was light-hearted and level-headed, by no means nasty, so I was amused when the man who’d called over the guy in the first place told me I had been speaking to the PR director for Miss Universe Canada.

I found Mr. PR later to properly introduce myself and ask if I could write about this, to which he said of course. “One last thing,” I said, “do you consider yourself a feminist?”

At first, the man responsible for Miss Universe Canada’s reputation wouldn’t say yes or no. “I’m a humanist, which means I’m pro-man, pro-woman,” he began, but as he talked his way through it, talked about how his mom was the first woman to run an airline, and talked about how he was raised being told that anything a boy can do a girl can do and better, and after a couple more things about how women are superheroes, said, “in that sense, I am 100% feminist.”

He mentioned somewhere in there that he wished people would look at beauty pageants for how they are today and ignore that the competition schedule looked like this when they started taking place:

1. Girls line up, all wearing swimsuits.
2. Judges use intellectual, exclusively male thinking power to examine girls’ butts.
2. Winner announced.
3. Yay girls! Yay butts! Girls! Butts!

During our argument, Mr. PR kept coming back to, “but it’s about how smart the girls are, too!” Him and the rest of the Miss Universe organization certainly are trying to [look like they want to] put more emphasis on the fact that there are perks to being intelligent as well as conventionally attractive. Just look at the message on their website:

“These women are savvy, goal-oriented and aware. The delegates who become part of the Miss Universe Organization display those characteristics in their everyday lives, both as individuals, who compete with hope of advancing their careers, personal and humanitarian goals, and as women who seek to improve the lives of others.”

Wow. Could it be that these pageant puppet masters are finally trying to show young girls that being smart is more important than being pretty? That our looks shouldn’t take any part in being a measure of our self-worth? That the ways others judge our bodies shouldn’t change whether or not they listen to what we have to say?

Ha ha, not really! It’s not that I think reform is hypocritical — reform is necessary. But I’ll give my support once they get the swimsuit — oh, I’m sorry, fitness — portion outta there.

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