I haven’t seen as much hoopla over a beauty story since transgender beauty, Jenna Talackova, entered the Miss Universe contest. There’s been a ton of buzz about a dinky beauty contest for the elderly.
But this is no ordinary beauty contest. The is a beauty pageant for female survivors of one the worst events in human history: the Holocaust.
The head of the pageant sees it as a way for people to tell their stories, as the pageant includes not just parading around in fancy clothes but quite a bit of rehashing of people’s experiences. And, of yeah, the beauty company that made up the contestants’ faces, get a plug too.
Well, did the blogosphere light up with this story. People found it disgusting on many levels. Should a frivolous pageant be the platform to share horrible moments in history? And should a cosmetics brand be benefitting from it?! Moreover, could the contest actually be judging these survivors based on their stories in addition to their beauty? Who wins then? The prettiest person who suffered the most?
I see their points.
But, I see it another way too. Jews’s appearance played a role in Nazi’s identification and hatred of them. According to the Nazis, Jews looked semitic (darker hair, darker skin and longer noses) which was deemed inferior to the Nordic look of the “German race” (meanwhile Hitler didn’t look Nordic at all, as all know) and, therefore, ugly. Ironically, many Jews look Nordic, my Dutch aunt being one of them. And because she was blonde, she was able to leave her place of hiding every so often in early 1940’s Holland to get food and necessities without fear of capture. So extolling these survivors for their beauty is a big F-you to Hitler.
Moreover, to be elderly and still deemed beautiful by society is rare, and therefore very empowering. And assuming beauty is a frivolous concept is downright close-minded. Beauty matters to people, especially women. And while we love to talk about inner beauty, which I’m sure many these women have in spades, outer beauty is important too. And it’s especially important because its physical! Hitler wanted to eradicate not just Jewish thinking or religion, he wanted to eradicate the Jewish PEOPLE, their physical beings. Finally, while there’s no question these survivors overcame amazing feats, and we certainly should honor them for that, they don’t necessarily want to be respected for their pasts alone but their current lives as well. They want to appreciate and celebrate the HERE and NOW.
Oh, and one last thing: even if you could argue that combining beauty and beauty brands with stories of the Holocaust seems base, well, so be it. The story was noticed because of it. We need to remind people of this horrible experience and if it means using a little provocation, maybe that’s not so bad.