What Is Really Beautiful
A whole lot of stuff
Last week, while picking up the demolition zone that is my house, I happened to hear a radio ad that struck me as probably the most ridiculous thing ever made. The announcer, backed by appropriately exciting music, proudly declared an "evening of the greatest beauty on the planet." No, he wasn't introducing a performance of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, or an art exhibit. This was a commercial for Miss Universe.
Now, despite claims that such pageants are not demeaning to women and
celebrate more than a woman's looks, I have to offer a hearty, and
intensely sarcastic laugh. These women, touted as the most beautiful on the
planet, don't even look the way they appear in the pageant. It takes
several cans of hair spray, hours in a tanning salon, bottles of
foundation, and some serious practice walking in heels to look that way. I
won't even address the dieting issue! These women don't roll out of bed
every morning looking like a human version of Barbie; no one looks this
way. It takes a whole lot of "stuff" to become an air-brushed version of a
Distorted body image
If beauty pageants truly were about the whole person, little girls would not have their hair dyed blonde, teenage girls wouldn't starve themselves to fit into bathing suits designed for the physique of prepubescent boys, and women over 30 would not consider themselves over the hill. If you aren't sure this is the mindset of beauty pageants, look at photos of Jon Bennett Ramsey. You will see a child, although beautiful already, painted, primped and accessorized to look like a 6 year old pinup. All so she could win a couple trophies.
So, if pageants really celebrate a distorted body image, and present women as a nothing more than a decorative object, what is beautiful?
The Most Beautiful Girl in the World
by Sarah Banet-Weiser
Univ California Press
Sarah Banet-Weiser complicates the standard feminist take on beauty pageants in this intriguing look at a hotly contested but enduringly popular American ritual. She focuses on the Miss America pageant in particular, considering its claim to be an accurate representation of the diversity of contemporary American women. Exploring the cultural constructions and legitimations that go on during the long process of the pageant, Banet-Weiser depicts the beauty pageant stage as a place where concerns about national identity, cultural hopes and desires, and anxieties about race and gender are crystallized and condensed. The beauty pageant, she convincingly demonstrates, is a profoundly political arena deserving of serious study.