The 2023 edition of Miss World will take place in the UAE, Miss World Limited chairperson Julia Morley announced on Instagram on Monday. “I am delighted to announce the 71st Miss World Festival will be held in…THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES,” she captioned the post. While the organization has yet to announce more details, including the date and venue, the only question we really have is: why are beauty pageants still a thing?
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I think it’s time that we stop pretending that measuring a woman’s looks is empowering— it’s exploitative. We already live in a looks-obsessed society, and contests that are literally based on a woman’s physical appearance only send out harmful messages and further perpetuate body dysphoria and low self-esteem among impressionable young girls. And, don’t even get us started on the eligibility criteria— not only do you have to be a size double zero, 5’11, and conventionally attractive, you also must be unmarried, without children, and no older than 27. There’s instances of previous Miss World and Miss Universe winners who had to give up their crowns after revelations about their private lives forced them to quit— Helen Morgan won the Miss World title in 1974, but was forced out after only four days for being an unmarried mother.
To make matters even worse, a lot of women who participate in these contests began competing in child beauty pageants from a very young age, where they are groomed to reduce themselves to their physical appearance and believe that they are only beautiful if they fit into society’s ultra-unrealistic beauty standards that were basically created and are being upheld by the patriarchy.
Most people who defend beauty pageants like to stress upon the fact that they are also a scholarship/ambassadorship program that allow the winner to use the funds to make a positive impact in the world, but how about just directly donating that money to a scholarship fund instead of pitting young women against each other as they parade around in swimsuits for a bunch of grown people’s entertainment?
The concept of a beauty pageant goes way back. One of the earliest ones was held in the mid 1800s in America. In the late 19th century, women also did not have the power to sign contracts, own property, or vote as a woman was subordinate to her husband. Since then, there has been significant progress in women’s rights, however, beauty pageants remain. Maybe it’s time we leave these antiquated contests in the past where they belong.
But, to understand their relevance today, we have to look at who is benefiting from these centuries-old contests. Aside from some high-end fashion houses and brands endorsing their products, the only ones who seem to really benefit from beauty pageants are the organizers. At the end of the day, these contests are no more than sexist capitalist schemes generating money at the expense of young women. While there might be a crown and prize money to be won, truthfully there are no winners.