News Flash: Iraq is having it’s very first Miss Iraq beauty pageant in more than 4 decades! (NBC News)
So how should we feel about that? As many of our loyal readers know, we often take a contrarian point of view than most of our contemporaries on beauty contests. While I’m the last to tune in to beauty pageants and could never imagine entering myself or my daughter in one, I’m not wholeheartedly against them. For many, these events have been opportunities for women to escape their poor economic situations or give people, who may not fit the typical beauty mold (e.g., people with special needs), a sense of confidence.
But in the case of this Iraqi pageant I’m conflicted. One the one hand, this a symbol of women’s strength and optimism. The pageant members see it as a way to revive a sense of culture and arts in the country. The beauty contest will present a different image of Iraq, they argue. Instead of the world perceiving the country as war-torn and violent, they will see it as thriving, beautiful and fun. Moreover, given the pageant has faced a lot of conservative backlash (many have even have received death threats), it has become a symbol of female rebellion.
On the other hand, a pageant, while appropriately modest given the country’s religious restrictions, is still an event glorifying women’s beauty. Of course I’m a big proponent of celebrating all people’s beauty. But in a conservative Muslim country, where women are not always regarded as first-class-citizens and where they are seen as better care-takers than anything else, do we want to endorse beauty pageants as a symbol of women’s progress? Do we want to objectify women that much more?
While the backlash against the event has caused many to drop out, the event is still taking place. To rail against the pageant therefore seems useless. Instead we should encourage the pageant’s participants to view their success as a first step towards greater freedoms, not the final one. Perhaps viewing this historic event as one of the many points along a journey makes it worthwhile for all involved.