The 72nd Edition of Miss Universe Pageant, held on Nov 18, 2023 at El Salvador, marks an important day in the history of womankind. A date that chronicles our evolution as sensible human beings. The contest this time was the first in many aspects, paving way to an inclusive and emancipated society.
A rare diversity of participants, for the first time
Miss Pakistan bravely represented her country for the first time, regardless of all backlash and threats she received back home.
Miss Nepal, a plus size woman, beamed with confidence as she flaunted her curves on the ramp.
Miss Netherlands and Miss Portugal are transwomen; until this time the trans community hadn’t found representation at any top Women Pageants.
The contestants who represented Columbia and Guatemala are married with children, the organizers changed their rules to accommodate women of all nature.
Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai had fired up a young girl’s imagination
For me, Miss Universe and Miss World were always about Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai. As a 9th grade student, their victory was like a dream come true. Glamour, fame, tiaras, brands, accolades, the two women encouraged many young girls like me to fantasize about a new avenue for wealth and popularity, to think beyond academics and marriage.
A couple of years down the line and I realized how futile my dreams had been. Well, for starters, I was 7-8 inches too short for the minimum height requirement. And fat as per societal standards. And I knew I wouldn’t grow any taller or thinner.
It all seems funny now when I now recollect my teenage ambitions, but back then, beauty contests had begun to hurt.
Pageants now set unhealthy and unattainable prescribed ‘benchmarks of beauty’
Minimum height 5’7″, Vital Stats 36-24-36, Not fat, Not Skinny, Flawless complexion, beautiful smile… all the prescribed “benchmarks for perfection” in women. Post Sushmita and Aishwarya, Miss India contests became all the more significant, as many of our winners won internationally. They would walk the ramp in national costume, swimsuit, evening gown, and the judges would award them marks out of 10 for their height, cat walk, figure, body measurements and the answers to certain questions.
Soon leading ladies in cinema and on TV were competing to look slimmer and physically attractive. Let’s face it, most of the beauty queens would join the Bollywood bandwagon and I would point out here, that for women in particular, the emphasis on acting skills began dwindling. Fashion and figure guaranteed fame in Hindi cinema.
So would I be wrong in saying that Beauty Pageants have forever set unhealthy and unrealistic standards for beauty? Some might say mine is a classic case of sour grapes, being short and stout since ages, I have been far below the conventional beauty criteria. But even for those who matched these, how many made it to the top? I guess the number would be a lot lesser than those who faced rejection and depression.
The race to ‘look beautiful’ in young girls and women
Beauty contests have always emphasized on the importance of perfect physical appearance, period. Endorsements for skin lighting creams, weight loss tablets, hair growing oils, youthful skin serums and teeth whitening toothpastes, were on the rise. These competitions successfully carved a niche for expensive brands in the market, it was like a race to LOOK young and beautiful.
So what does that make of me and millions of other women, who are perhaps short, curvy, can’t starve and can’t afford these products? Of course, with age, we mature and come to terms with the fact that we have a lot more to accomplish than to comply with certain beauty standards. And yes, thankfully, times are changing, and women of all age and sizes are finding comfort in their own skin.
But the beauty pageants are very much a part of our lives, and they still hold on to the same format. So, aren’t they actually celebrating certain women and demeaning everyone else?
Which makes this year’s pageant a breath of fresh air
That’s when this year’s edition of Miss Universe contest has come in like a breath of fresh air. 6 participants created history on ramp and inspite of a lot of opposition from a bunch of haters, they walked with pride, some making it to the Top 20.
None of the six won the crown, but the fact that the organizers bent the rules to embrace naturality is an accomplishment in itself, one step towards inclusion.
Let’s hope more women break the shackles of unrealistic beauty yardsticks, more women find a platform to showcase their true self, and make the world a peaceful place to live in.