While beauty pageants may often be viewed negatively for promoting unrealistic beauty standards and an ill representation of women, enabling the progression of these pageants may prove beneficial for modern feminism. The origin of beauty pageants was to put petite and idealized femininity on display. However, as the definition of beauty continues to evolve to be much more inclusive, beauty pageants have a chance to be redefined to represent femininity as power and knowledge instead of ideal beauty.
The Birth of Beauty
The emergence of makeup in everyday American life created a distinction between cosmetics and paint (PBS). Cosmetics were the products that “good” women used to enhance their natural features. Paints were perceived as what was used by women without class. Paints were associated with prostitutes and other similar professions, which was a very bad thing in the early 20th century. Besides constructing the early history of beauty, lighter skin was also idealized, perpetuating the racism rooted in the United States. During the rising era of beauty, women suffered an additional struggle to keep up with new expectations from society, now dealing with the details of their physical appearance.
Because beauty had become a sort of trend and expectation, a form of entertainment was pioneered to display these trends. While the earliest forms of beauty contests can be seen in shows such as the circus of Phineas T. Barnum and resorts during the late 19th century, the first instance of an official beauty pageant was the 1921 Miss America Pageant to establish a larger platform for beauty competitions as a form of entertainment for the middle-and upper-class. With the help of Hollywood productions, the concept of a beauty pageant was spread around the world, giving opportunities for other countries to partake in a celebration of decolonization and nationalism. However, the attitude towards a national celebration at the expense of female pride began to grow harsh entering our modern society.
The Progression of Beauty Pageants
Today, Miss Universe’s biggest beauty pageant title allows every country to demonstrate their gender values and morality. While the definition of beauty has most recently changed to have almost no meaning with the spread of body positivity and acceptance, beauty pageants may constantly remind some women that they are different. An infamous case from 1996 saw a black Caribbean immigrant, Denny Mendez, be crowned Miss Italy. Although some were outraged that a non-native Italian won the title of Miss Italy, it allowed the country to enter a dialogue about the issues of racism that swelled through its society. While, at the moment, the people of Italy exposed the racism that flowed through them, it allowed the society to be educated and progress from the situation. Even beyond race, beauty pageants can be a medium through which women are celebrated for their greatness and what they have overcome.
On the surface, these beauty competitions still appear as simply women being pitted against each other to be the most feminine, but the development of these competitions show some potential. Considering the globality of beauty pageants, there is a form of universal harmony and diversity in the world. However, something that needs to be emphasized in the future of beauty pageants to exceed their potential is to end the comparison of women to other women subjectively. While modern pageants incorporate more than just looks into their judgement, pageants can be a place where women are recognized for their life talents, from anything they have learned in an academic setting to anything they have learned simply from experience, by allowing women to more directly display their intelligence, the global stigma of women being lesser than men can begin a great decline.
Redefine Pageants to Display Female Power
By taking the beauty out of beauty pageants and making pageants a platform for women to display their uniqueness, pageants’ history and culture can continue to make a difference in the perception of women by society and the confidence of women in general. Beauty pageants historically emphasize the imperfections in “average” women, but women are more than the old definition of superficial beauty. Nowadays, beauty is more than makeup, and pageants can be the perfect tool to spread feminism, body positivity, and progressiveness.
“Beauty Pageant Origins and Culture.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/missamerica-beauty-pageant-origins-and-culture/.