A few days ago, it was announced by the chairperson of the Miss World beauty pageant, Julia Morley, that the famous competition will no longer feature a swimsuit round. Speaking to Elle magazine, she said "I don't need to see women just walking up and down in bikinis. It doesn't do anything for the woman. And it doesn't do anything for any of us." This is a huge progressive step towards a more positive portrayal of women in the media and popular culture.
It has been long argued that this 'beach fashion' segment of the beauty contest was simply objectification of women, where they would literally walk up and down a stage wearing swimsuits or bikinis. There was no interview, no discussion of their styling choices, no reasoning behind it. The young women were judged solely on their bodies and how they looked semi-naked. I fail to understand how you can argue against the fact that this was pure objectification. Thankfully, Morley's new-found opinion is in-line with this sentiment, furthering her initial point by stating, "I don't care if someone has a bottom two inches bigger than someone else's. We are really not looking at her
bottom. We are really listening to her speak," and so the section has been removed. Further support has come from Chris Wilmer, director of the Miss United States competition, due to this not just being about beauty: "it's about 'beauty with a purpose'. There didn't seem to be a purpose to have the swimsuit."
This move away from the sexualisation of women is apparently part of the new path that the equally lauded and criticized pageant organisation wants to go down. I praise them for this step towards creating the ideal that there is more to beauty than how you appear on the outside. Every single person is attracted to different traits in another, and yes beauty is one of these, but there are so many more. A person's self-worth is not attached to how physically attractive they are perceived to be by an unwritten set of guidelines that have been adopted by social constructs. The removal of a section based purely on physical looks is a reinforcement of this idea: there is more to a person than what you see.
In 1974, the 'Beauty With a Purpose' segment was added to the competition, where the participants would take part in charitable work, with it raising over $1 billion for various charities to date. This addition was one of the first steps away from the external side of competition judgement and towards representing what the organisers saw as the true purpose of the competition.
However, there are calls by some to banish the competition entirely. In order to participate, it is claimed by The Telegraph that women need to be unmarried and without children to meet the guidelines. Basically, the women need to be able to be viewed as 'available'. If this contest was about celebrating inner and outer beauty then any woman should be eligible for participation, their marital status or being a mother should not come in to this whatsoever. I find it hypocritical that Miss World is claiming to move away from the sexualisation of women and want to be about beauty in all its forms, yet only allows single and childless women to take part. They are sending out a message that those 'unattached' women are the only ones who can be deemed beautiful, when this is so, so far from the truth.
It could be argued that since the reigning winner is expected to travel the world and work as an ambassador for the organisation, spreading it's message to women around the globe, that being unmarried and childless could be a necessity. However, there are countless successful working mothers in relationships. Also, If the pageant believes in it's message of beauty having a purpose so intensely, then they will be accommodating to any participant and make changes to the way their winner spreads the message. You fundamentally cannot punish a woman for having a child or getting married, or use this as a tool against the progression she has chosen for herself.
A woman can be objectified no matter what she is wearing, and although there is a more positive body image portrayal in the media than previously was, this form of competition is still viewed by some, including myself, as giving out negative ideals to women. There are skills rounds, such as sport and talent, but the general perception of the pageant, and how it is portrayed by media outlets, is how good a woman looks in a dress and how pretty she is. Until the organisers fully address every sexist and socially damaging aspect of their competition, they cannot claim to be about more than outward appearance and being 'for' women.
Do you think this is the first of many steps towards creating a better social environment for women, or can this never be achieved by beauty pageants?