Usually I ignore beauty pageants/contestants. They’re generally nauseating and do very little to make me feel secure as a woman who doesn’t measure up to female expectations. There’s also the whole issue of the inherent sexism of parading women around in various outfits like Barbie dolls and then voting on which is the prettiest and thus most deserving of a prize.
But my interest was piqued because a lot of people are talking about this year’s winner Nina Davuluri. Specifically talking about the incredible racism she’s been subjected to on social media sites like twitter. Most people being unable to differentiate between Ms. Davuluri and an arabic woman. Its pretty significant because Ms. Davuluri is the first Indian-American woman to win the title of Miss America. I got to thinking “So how many women of color have been Miss America anyway?”
The list of Miss America title owners was easy to find. The last Asian-American woman to win was in 2001 who was also consequently the only Asian-American to ever win Miss America. There’s been a few black women to have won the title in the past 20 years but in the sea of faces of white beauty its still obviously an institution dedicated to reinforcing white standards of beauty and femininity. This is a serious problem. The United States is a very diverse nation and women of color need to be visible in all its institutions. So often the case is that they are not.
So while it can be argued to be a good thing that there is more representation of women of color in these institutions. Its begging an even bigger question. Why do we have beauty pageants at all? Why are girls learning that their beauty is something they must compete with other girls over? Why are girls being encouraged to put so much effort into time consuming, harmful beauty practices that restrict their ability to move and be active, that restrict the type of work and jobs they can perform? Why must women continually be in a position of one step forwards, two steps back when it comes to our ability to be public figures?
During the second wave of feminism, women went after Miss America and everything it represented. Women as pacified, smiling (now with added veneers and bleach!) fuck-objects. It isn’t a flattering thing to be Miss America. Its like being the best trophy-wife at the golf club. So why are we still being subjected to this insulting garbage every year? The analyses I’ve read of this situation haven’t been asking that question. Even on supposed feminist sites like Jezebel the analysis is “whoa look at those fucking racists.” Which is something, but it isn’t touching on the misogyny of the situation. Why on earth did it ever come to be that a young woman like Nina Davuluri decide that she wanted to enter beauty competitions in the first place?
All women suffer from the mythos of beauty. Some suffering more than others. We as women need to all stop participating in our own oppression, and consequently the oppression of other women by giving credibility to the concept of beauty entirely.
Tagged beauty myth, beauty mythos, beauty ultimatums, end miss america, feminism, lesbian feminism, misogyny, miss america, miss america 2013, miss america is mindless crap, nina davuluri, objectification, racism, racist beauty standards, second wave, sexism
“Sorry Sheila Jeffreys I wanna look cool!” I exclaimed as I got ready to permanently mark my body with what Germaine Greer calls “bad drawing”.
Why did I say this? Sheila Jeffreys analyzed in her book “Beauty and Misogyny” how the trend of body modifications is actually a popularization of mutilation which is especially marketed to women. I read it a couple years ago and basically agreed with the premise. However I’ve always wanted tattoos and had saved enough money to get my first. I’d also done what felt like a minor achievement for myself that day and wanted it to be forever connected as a triumph in my memory.
The first thing I noticed was the pain of it. It felt like getting sliced open with a razor. Only the pain subsided after awhile and it actually began to feel good. The intense vibration of the tattoo gun was giving my skin a deep tissue massage which for someone who has a chronic illness which causes severe pain, was very nice to experience. I began to realize that there was a whole layer of sadomasochism to the whole process which I hadn’t anticipated. The pleasure/pain dynamic was seriously weird to be experiencing as someone who shys away from that kind of thing instinctively.
My friend who is also a radical feminist went with me and actually got the same tattoo I did. Afterwards I brought up Sheila Jeffrey’s analysis of body modifications, specifically piercings and tattoos and we had a pretty interesting discussion. It is true that many women exercise their “agency” by self-mutilation. My friend, who has multiple tattoos said to me that for her a big part of her life as a woman has been people denying her reality exists. For her having something permanently on her body is proof that her life and reality cannot be denied. They’re RIGHT THERE. So actually what I had brushed aside before from Beauty and Misogyny was made very real by permanently mutilating my body. In some ways I’ve taken the step to differentiate myself as an individual; this is my body, my image that I project in order to communicate something about myself. But its also true that what I have to work with as a woman to differentiate myself is often superficial. Related to the physical, material world and of course, my body.
I can see now why so many women, particularly ones who are survivors of trauma do develop addictions to getting tattooed. The pleasure/pain dynamic and the subsequent feeling of agency over the self is an addictive behavior borne out of the desire to feel “real”.
I’m not different. I know I want more “bad drawings” put on my body. I guess now though I have a deeper understanding of the what and why of my doing it.
Tagged beauty and misogyny, body modifications, feminism, feminist, pleasure/pain, radical feminism, sadomasochism, scum, self mutilation, sheila jeffreys, tattoos