The headline announced the crowning of the International Beauty Contest winner. This sort of headline always brings to mind what my beautiful, intelligent, gifted mother-in-law once remarked: “Until we get rid of beauty contests, women will never be equal.” I was 25 years old at the time and wasn’t sure what she meant. Through the decades that followed, it became painfully clear what she meant, and I’ll be damned…she was right.
Men don’t have handsome contests. They don’t strut in speedos or dress up in tuxedos to answer questions about what will save mankind, and then twirl batons as their talent. Men don’t parade with banners across their chests at rodeos, state fairs, car races, or on state stages to be crowned king of handsomeness, and then turn around to see if they can win the country’s king of handsomeness, and then – wait! There is yet more to come – turn around some more to see if they can become king of international handsomeness. There is no international restaurant chain with a crude title named after a personal part of their body.
Men feel handsome however they look. They do not dress up to be compared and judged, they don’t give a shit what you think. Take them or leave them and by gawd, if you leave them, that’s YOUR problem, not theirs. They are proud of their body parts but won’t consent to Hooters naming a subchain of restaurants after them, called “Ballsies”, because they refuse to be reduced to serving food to you in a logoed jock strap.
Men still tend to earn more than women. Men could always vote. Men could always own land and open a credit card. Men have always been president of the United States. In novels, books and magazines, men are not first described by what they are wearing, or ranked on whether it is fashionable or not. They know it is their brain and their talents that count, but hey, they know they look good, too, no need to point it out.
Little girls are still complimented the most on how pretty they look, not on their top grades, interests or skills. The one universal day recognized in a woman’s life by all of society making her the center of attention, is her wedding day – because there is (usually) a man involved. Women’s magazines flood the reader with improvement ads: skin, hair, lips, clothes, body. Men’s magazines flood the reader with national news, repair and home upkeep, funding and investment research. When a woman becomes married, she truly is the wife of the house. She makes it a home, but she still also covers most of the housekeeping while working forty hours a week or the caregiver of the couple’s children.
Aging men are not demeaned because of wrinkles, gray hair, or broader tummies. They are admired for hanging with partners 20-40 years younger than they are, and the movies often reinforce this role. They have sex whenever they can because they do not have a womb, so getting pregnant is not their problem. They do not feel responsible for the babies that are produced, but at their insistent right to ownership of female wombs, the babies must be born. Females are not allowed to age. Women are rejected because of wrinkles, gray hair or broader tummies. “Anti-aging” media campaigns target females. You can be 50 only if you look 30. You can be 60 only if you look 40. And that look is determined by the makers of lotions, creams, lipsticks, foundations, eye makeup, hair products, etc., who are filling their pockets with the socially instilled insecurities.
How do we protect our little girls and young women from these hypocrisies and falsehoods?
As my mother-in-law implied, we must first get rid of beauty contests. What is “beauty” after all, but an energy that defies definitions. It is varied, glorious, intriguing, charming, structural. There are always social norms glorifying specific versions of beauty…in one culture, huge rings in the mouth to extend the lips and face is considered beautiful. In another, height above 62 inches is egregious. Blue eyes here…brown eyes there. You get the point.
Why get rid of beauty contests? Because beauty is art. Imagine walking into an art museum and being forced to compare all works of art to each other, and then pick one…ONE…that is supposedly, “the best”. The best of what, exactly? Is it not foolish to put “beauty” into a narrowly defined slot, when in actuality, it cannot be captured in one form and not another form? We all know the woman who strikes us as powerfully magnetic that is beyond logic. Great bone structure is obvious and when it isn’t, we are confused because it is something we can’t point our finger to. It is unsettling when something happens inside that person that reaches out into her space and makes her irresistible to us or others.
Why stop beauty competitions? Because beauty cannot be defined. It has no social consistency and brutally sets women against women for the most superficial of superficial values. It keeps women distracted from their real power of intelligence, wisdom, compassion, talents, and sensualities. It delays or prevents women from gathering with other like-minded and able women, and making major differences in the world together.
Beauty contests need to be eliminated because the “scholarships and opportunities” given only to the winner should be given to all women, regardless of social popularity. Because men were smart enough to not have them for themselves. Because women are not objects, but human beings. Because each woman has beauty within, and has a right to own it.
We know better now. We and all our young women and little girls, deserve to be seen, loved, and cherished for our true worth as a human being.
My mother-in-law knew that, and she was right.