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.