Want to Take a Stand? Use the World of Beauty

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Conversations around beauty have been a source of ugliness and racism this week thanks to the former West Virginia mayor and her disgusting post about our lovely and intelligent first lady.  And we had to weather our share of obnoxious comments about Hillary’s pantsuits for years.  

But this week also shows that beauty dialogue can be a source of amazing, unifying and progressive power.  When society, even government, takes an intolerant, racist stance, sometimes it’s the world of beauty that pushes progress forward.

Just this week, Allure magazine published a thoughtful set of articles about muslim women, including their take on beauty and fashion, and their culture in general. For the first time, a non-white man,  Dwayne Johnson — half Samoan, half- black actor, was named sexiest man of the year by People Magazine. Cover Girl named its first spokeswoman wearing a hijab, Nura Afia; and the transgender community held their first (in-secret) beauty contest in Indonesia.  All of these stories not only affirm these diverse individuals’ beauty, but they empower them and others like them  And, they give us a much-needed view into their worlds, allowing us to better empathize and support them.

There is no question, conversations around and depictions of beauty can be a source of angst, even cruelty.  But the world of beauty can also lead the way.  It can force conversations, provide new perspectives and hopefully, just hopefully, change our views for the better.  And it’s not just me saying it.  At the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women dinner honoring Nicole Kidman this past week, Frances Corner, Head of London College of Fashion, said (which I then tweeted out to the world :)):“We need to use the power of fashion to end violence against women.”

There’s no getting around it: most of us care about what we look like — some more than others.  So instead of ignoring the important role it plays, let’s use it to tell a critical and meaningful story.  Let’s leverage our fascination with beauty to make us more tolerant, accepting and loving.  

So many of us are looking for ways to rebel against the increasing intolerance being spewed since the election…some by the very people in charge of running our government.  There are MANY actions we must take to stop it, e.g., signing petitions, starting dialogues and trying to understand the root of the hatred itself.  But there’s another form of rebellion too.  And that can take the form of embracing beauty of all the lovely, diverse people we have in our country.  Let’s buy more makeup from the brands that embrace diversity, let’s comment on the insightful beauty articles posted about different types of beauty, and let’s compliment others’ unique beauty in front of our children.  These small actions will add up to a big difference.  It’s not the only solution, but it’s a start.  And, it’s fun, so why not?

If you’d like to donate to the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women, please go to this link and contribute what you can or Text to Pledge to 56512: UNTF20[space] Pledge Amount [space] Your Name.

From Camels to Geopolitics: Why, Even in 2016, We Care About Pageants & What They Say About Us

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Over the past week I noticed a number of stories about beauty contests in my feed.  That’s not unusual.  What WAS weird was the type of stories.  Of course there were a few about the Steve Harvey guffaw at the Miss Universe contest, but there was another about a terrorist threatening to kidnap the recently anointed Miss Iraq and, even more bizarrely, one about a beauty contest for camels!

What gives?  Why are there so many beauty pageants out there.  And more interestingly, why do we care so much that people write stories about them, adapt them for their cultures (and local animals) and even want to kill people associated with them??  It’s 2016 already!  Haven’t we evolved past the old fashioned notion that people’s beauty should be judged?

Some of you reading this may be saying to yourselves: “frankly, I don’t care about pageants, move on.”  I can understand that.  But understanding why some of us care about something seemingly insignificant can open our eyes into what makes us ALL tick.

I could write a whole masters thesis on the pros or cons of beauty contests.  But I won’t.  And I’m not making any judgements here.  I just want to understand why people all over the world create and support such spectacles.  And I’m not the only one who is scratching her head here.  There have been scholarly works (The Why’s of Beauty Contests), books (Beauty Queens and the Global Stage) and a PBS series (Origins of the Beauty Pageant) developed around answering this question.

None of these sources have fully answered the question for me but in reading them all, I think I see some explanation.

Let’s begin by recognizing that beauty matters.  Whether we like it or not, every culture admires, creates and rewards beautiful objects and people.  Of course every culture has a different interpretation of what is beautiful, but in the end, each and every nation has written poems, novels and songs about someone or other’s beauty.

Ok, but why do we have to judge it?  Why should beauty become something we compete over?  To be fair, the human species competes over, well, almost everything.  That’s why we have the Olympics, national sports, Emmy awards, you name it.  Hey, we even compete with ourselves thanks to Fitbit.   Because beauty is one of those things that we care about, it too has become a source of competition.

But then why can’t beauty pageants just remain another harmless form of entertainment?  Why do they matter so much to people?  Based on my research (albeit somewhat limited) I learned that beauty pageants, especially outside of the Western World, are loaded with political, cultural, and social significance.  On the one hand, there is a strong antipathy toward them, as they are a blatant and, for some, immoral import from the West.  (These contests actually started in ancient Greece but took shape in the U.S. thanks to Phineas T. Barnum (yes, as in the circus :))  On the other hand, most cultures take this construct and reshape it to match their cultural values, i.e., judge beauty but their own standards.  In a way, the pageants become a source of cultural pride.  Even in the U.S., some early pageants were a form of rebellion.  I wrote a post last year (The Racial Dimension of Plus Sized Women) about the history of African-American’s elaborate dress code for Sunday church services.  Dressing up hearkens back to the slave era and how Sunday was the one day a week when slaves could dress with dignity and beauty.  Slaves would parade down the streets to show off their beauty and claim ownership of their humanity.

Beauty pageants are clearly fraught with conflicting ideals and a mix of emotions.  That is exactly why they matter to people.  These contests are a response to our innate and global love for beauty.  But they also tap into the debasement that we fear comes along with admiring people for their beauty alone.  They are examples of Western infiltration but a means to rebel against it at the same time.  They tap into our love for competition and our fear of losing.  Whether we support these contests or not, at least we have a better understanding of why so many of us care about them.  And maybe we just have a slightly better understanding of us all.

First Miss Iraq Beauty Pageant in 40 Years: A Sign of Progress or Not?

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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.

 

 

Weekend Observations: The Racial Dimension of Plus-Sized Fashion

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Aaahhh, the bar mitzvah is over and I finally have a few minutes to indulge in some reading. (Pics to come soon!) I grabbed the latest edition of the New Yorker and came across a fascinating article entitled the “Plus Side.” Playing off the term “plus size,” the article addresses the transformation of the plus size fashion industry.
This article is so replete with interesting facts, that I can’t address all of them in one post.  No question I’ll be mining stories from this article for posts to come.
One interesting story within the story has to do with the racial politics around plus size fashion. When we think of the conversations that surround plus sized fashion, health and weight come to mind. But there’s a racial one too. A huge group of women in the plus-sized community are African-American.
And the African-American element is probably what keeps the industry as exciting as it is and can be. Not only do black men and women celebrate a fuller figure (or “thick” figures), but the community has a history of embracing fashion — and fashion shows for that matter — as forms of resistance.
The story references the Sunday church processions of black slaves and how they became forms of fashion shows and beauty pageants.  And in so doing, these processions elevated the slaves in a sense, even if for only a few hours.  How interesting!
Over the years, we, at Beautyskew, have often challenged the cultural conversation around fashion shows, beauty pageants, and in some cases, the fashion industry in general, which depict these cultural elements as frivolous at best and demeaning at worst.   We have cited examples of when these cultural institutions were uplifting. Here, again, is an example of fashion shows and beauty pageants don’t hurt but elevate people. Fashion shows and beauty pageants for African-American slaves were forms of rebellion against enslavement and inhumanity centuries ago, and now they are forms of resistance against cultural norms.
No matter the health or economic issues some may have with celebrating plus sized fashion, I’m all for rejoicing people’s right to feel powerful, celebrated, and equal to all others.
 

Weekend Observations: The Last Country You'd Expect Cancels National Beauty Contest

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Usually I share observations from my personal life in our Weekend Observations column.  But today I’m deviating.
I’ve written about beauty contests a lot.  One reason?  There’s a ton of ’em out there so they are bound to stir up some interesting stories.  Also, they happen to be a source of a lot of strong opinions.  While many women view these parades as a way to progress, i.e., win a scholarship, get exposure, attract a successful mate; many others view them as degrading to women.  And I’ve sympathized with both sides of the argument.
So, I was struck by the news that Italy’s national beauty contest, Miss Italia, was taken off of the national TV’s schedule.  First of all, this contest launched some of Italy’s biggest female stars, like Sophia Loren.  Also, it’s not like Italy ranks high when it comes to women’s equality in professional and domestic spheres.  Finally, Italy is a country with a strong heritage of beauty and aestheticism, so to cancel the biggest  beauty contest in the country seems out of character.
The reason for the cancellation? Sexism.  Anna Maria Tarantola, president of the state TV station, RAI, calls the contest “a sexist anachronism.”  Who can argue with this, right?  These contests basically ask women to parade around in skimpy clothes and beat out others based on their physical beauty.  As you can imagine, there were protests to this.  People claimed that such an event happens all over the world, and has been happening for eons.
But then I heard an argument that was different.  The contest organizer saw this ban as a sign of racism.  She argues: “’It’s really rather interesting to note that the Speaker of the Lower House has closed the door to Miss Italia but thrown it open to Gay Pride. I am not opposed to any show or rally and in fact the more colourful the better but her decision has the air of racism.’ (Daily Mail)
Can you argue that banning a show about pretty people discriminates against, well, pretty people?  Actually, maybe you could.  After all, we have shows about Little People, rich wives, Red Necks — basically all different types.  These shows don’t always portray these folks in the best light, but they give them a voice and a platform.  While I certainly would not be the first person to sign up for a beauty contest (and not just because I wouldn’t want to scare the audience wearing a bikini!), I still question whether banning them is the answer.
 
 
 

Weekend Observations: The Last Country You’d Expect Cancels National Beauty Contest

Miss Italy bikini ban

Usually I share observations from my personal life in our Weekend Observations column.  But today I’m deviating.

I’ve written about beauty contests a lot.  One reason?  There’s a ton of ’em out there so they are bound to stir up some interesting stories.  Also, they happen to be a source of a lot of strong opinions.  While many women view these parades as a way to progress, i.e., win a scholarship, get exposure, attract a successful mate; many others view them as degrading to women.  And I’ve sympathized with both sides of the argument.

So, I was struck by the news that Italy’s national beauty contest, Miss Italia, was taken off of the national TV’s schedule.  First of all, this contest launched some of Italy’s biggest female stars, like Sophia Loren.  Also, it’s not like Italy ranks high when it comes to women’s equality in professional and domestic spheres.  Finally, Italy is a country with a strong heritage of beauty and aestheticism, so to cancel the biggest  beauty contest in the country seems out of character.

The reason for the cancellation? Sexism.  Anna Maria Tarantola, president of the state TV station, RAI, calls the contest “a sexist anachronism.”  Who can argue with this, right?  These contests basically ask women to parade around in skimpy clothes and beat out others based on their physical beauty.  As you can imagine, there were protests to this.  People claimed that such an event happens all over the world, and has been happening for eons.

But then I heard an argument that was different.  The contest organizer saw this ban as a sign of racism.  She argues: “’It’s really rather interesting to note that the Speaker of the Lower House has closed the door to Miss Italia but thrown it open to Gay Pride. I am not opposed to any show or rally and in fact the more colourful the better but her decision has the air of racism.’ (Daily Mail)

Can you argue that banning a show about pretty people discriminates against, well, pretty people?  Actually, maybe you could.  After all, we have shows about Little People, rich wives, Red Necks — basically all different types.  These shows don’t always portray these folks in the best light, but they give them a voice and a platform.  While I certainly would not be the first person to sign up for a beauty contest (and not just because I wouldn’t want to scare the audience wearing a bikini!), I still question whether banning them is the answer.

 

 

 

So Many Beauty Pageants in Zimbabwe. What Gives?

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What’s with all the beauty pageants in Zimbabwe? And they are a bit off the charts: Miss Curvy, Miss Legs, and Miss Parade, to name a few.  This article attempts to answer it.  But the story didn’t  answer it for it for me.
Is this upswing in pageants an indication that modeling industry has ballooned?  Nah.
Some people see it as a way to objectify women while others see it as a way to give them more opportunity.
And  to make matters worse, there’s your share of charlatans that get in the way.
Honestly, I’m scratching my head.  I wonder if all the pageants are a sign that the society is trying to navigate how to deal with new attitudes towards women.  After all, our own country embraced MANY pageants over a century ago.  That was around the same time that women were starting to assert their independence.  Perhaps, as backward and demeaning as it sounds, Zimbabwe’s explosion of pageants is a sign of just that.  Women ascending in society based off of beauty may seem antiquated but it’s a start to many other forms of eventual progress.

Weekend Observations: What Compels Us To Judge Beauty?

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On any given day, I receive at least 1 or 2 articles in my feed about some beauty pageant going on somewhere in the world.  Because I’m traveling today, I have a bit of time to look over all the articles that I’ve catalogued for “later,” many of which are about pageants, of course.  And then I saw this new concept of the beauty pageant.  A TV show has hit the airwaves called: “Gusto Kong Maging Beauty Queen.”  It is essentially a show in which not-so-pretty gals compete (after major instruction and help) over their physical beauty.
I’m not judging whether this show is good for man(or woman)kind or not.  It just intrigues me HOW MUCH we feel compelled to judge whether something/someone is beautiful, or whether something/someone is more beautiful than the next thing/person.
What gives?
We know there are tons of academic/scientific studies on why we’re attracted to things of beauty.  But what drives us to want to evaluate one’s beauty vs another’s?
Then I started thinking, so much of our attraction to beauty hearkens back to caveman days.  Perhaps we’re dealing with same thing here. Maybe we hardwired to seriously evaluate mates before launching into procreation, and it’s this wiring that compels us to do it with all things/people of beauty today?
Ok, so if you buy my argument, then you’d think once we’ve determined our mates, we would no longer need to engage in these beauty evaluations.  Of course we don’t lose our appreciation for beauty once we get hitched.  But this compulsion to evaluate beauty is going a number of levels deeper.  To expend effort evaluating people’s beauty — — whether its watching a beauty pageant or reading about it, seems pretty wasteful.  And yet, societies around the world ALL do it — A LOT.
Hmm….I’m stumped.
If you have any ideas, lob ’em over!
 

More to Love: Additions to the Reading List

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A lot of hoopla about, well, beauty pageants these past few weeks.  Take a look and see why:

  • The beauty pageant and contestant that have made major headlines recently…and for tragic reasons

http://www.wnd.com/2013/06/not-pretty-beauty-contestant-has-brain-glitch/

  • Pageants are an “offensive business.”  See why…do you agree?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sheila-moeschen/beauty-pageants-are-bad-fore-everyone_b_3466575.html

  • Transgender beauty feels legitimized and affirmed by beauty pageant

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2344938/Transgender-model-Dani-St-James-21-set-pageant-success-choosing-live-woman.html

  • Algeria reinstates its beauty contest after a 10 year break

http://english.alarabiya.net/en/life-style/fashion-and-beauty/2013/06/19/Miss-Algeria-contest-resumes-after-10-years.html

Any more stories to add?  Comment or tweet us @Beautyskew

More to Love: Additions to the Reading List

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What great beauty-in-culture reading did we uncover this week?  Take a look!

  • Totally new conference featuring Michelle Phan’s company (and I’m friends with the President of Ipsy too so I had to plug :))

http://www.wwd.com/fashion-news/fashion-scoops/generation-beauty-draws-a-plugged-in-crowd-to-first-conference-6969172?module=Fashion-Fashion%20Scoops-main

  • Kate Middleton: Britain’s most influential beauty icon 

http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2013-06-04/people/39739517_1_beauty-rimmel-icon

  • Beauty-conscious Venezuela has a new extreme diet …yikes!

http://world.time.com/2013/06/04/the-miracle-tongue-patch-beauty-conscious-venezuelas-new-extreme-diet/

  • Beauty pageants putting emphasis on values now

http://www.deccanchronicle.com/130601/lifestyle-fashionbeauty/article/beauty-backed-values

Any more stories to add? Comment or tweet @Beautyskew