• The Feminist Times

Beauty Pageants: Bogus Women Empowerment



It is appalling that in this day and age, most of us still consider beauty pageants as celebration of women and femininity. There is no doubt that the concept of beauty pageant stands on the obsolete understanding of gender and society. These contests desperately try to prove their relevance by following up with important world issues and sometimes even gender issues, ironically, without contemplating reasons for their own existence. In recent times, such contests defend themselves by claiming to be platforms for women empowerment. Their marketing and advertising campaigns use or rather misuse the concept of women empowerment. If we look closely the definition of empowered women for these pageants is “perfect bodies, graceful attitude , benevolent nature, possessing traditionally feminine talents, most importantly unmarried and young in age” juxtaposing with the modern idea of women empowerment i.e. providing fair opportunities to all women to achieve their highest potentials. The major difference is the

‘real women empowerment’ advocates for all women, the prime focus here is on inclusivity and beauty pageants’ ‘bogus women empowerment’ advocates for some women, the prime focus here is on exclusivity. While the society is evolving, these pageants fail to keep up with its pace, they are still stuck to the conventional notion of femininity being the core of a woman’s identity. While Pageants take pride in producing role models for young girls and women, they are unable to comprehend their needs, desires, and ambitions which certainly are far more than fitting in the conventional gender roles. One way, these contests have modernised themselves is by incorporating “mandatory social service” in their frameworks, which undoubtedly lacks the very essences of social work i.e. altruism. Social service done for the sake of being a part of a competition is no social service at all, but a mandatory task which would be quantitatively appraised by a panel like any other regular task of the competition.

They actively disempower both the contestants and audience by reducing complex humans, their unique talents, bodies, thoughts, cultures and passion for social causes to scoreboards and numbers. It is mind-boggling that while claiming to be platforms for their contestants’ development, they limit their growth and try to cage them in the conventional standards of femininity. The message that women are worth appreciating only if they fulfill and conform to traditional gender standards and roles, is not empowering in the least.

There is no doubt that these contests have a superficial understanding of both- humanitarian work and women empowerment and they mostly misuse these concepts to justify their existence in a world that no longer needs them, especially in their present form. Beauty pageants have existed and survived for a long time, however, when the foundation of a contest is based on patriarchal notions, merely adapting to the present society is not enough, therefore, beauty pageants need to redefine and reconstruct themselves in order to have potential to make actual contribution to the society.


-Sambhavi Srivastava

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