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Debate: Beauty pageants

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Are beauty contests harmful?

Background and context

Beauty contests are popular in many parts of the world. The biggest, the Miss World competition, has been running annually since 1951, and although it is less popular in the UK now than it was in 1968, when it attracted 27.5 million TV viewers, it attracts an enormous worldwide audience - around 3 billion viewers in 115 countries. There are beauty contests for various categories of age, sex and sexuality; this topic focuses on adult women’s beauty contests as overwhelmingly the most popular and high-profile version. Note that there are difficult technical issues about running this debate: it probably works best as a values debate on whether beauty contests are a good thing or not, but this kind of comparison motion is frowned upon in some policy-based debating circles. Proposing a ban on beauty contests might be met with various entirely valid opposition lines on enforceability and warped priorities (what about porn?), which would tend to undermine the point of the debate.

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Beauty: OK to emphasize beauty in society in contests?

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Yes

  • Banning beauty contests eliminates the joy to participants, audience. Many women enjoy entering them. Many people enjoy watching them. Nobody is forced to do either. The beauty of a fit, healthy, well-proportioned human form is something from which we can all take pleasure, and beauty contests, along with other forms of art, are vehicles which enable us to do so.
  • Being judged on beauty no different than on academics. Wendy McElroy. "In defense of beauty pageants." Lew Rockwell. November 19th, 2004: "There are two problems with that argument. Being judged on the basis of your beauty is no more 'objectification' than taking a college exam and being judged on your intellect; yet, as far as I know, every student will take exams. Moreover, absolutely no data supports a connection between beauty pageants and violence against women."
  • Beauty should be applauded, not critiqued.
  • Beauty pageants are used as scholarship funds. Miss USA and Miss America are the largest sources of scholarship funds for women. Doesn't get much more feminist than that.[1]


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No

  • Beauty contests put undue pressure on being beautiful. Beauty contests promote an ideal of female beauty to which only a minority of women can realistically aspire, but which adds to the pressure on all women to conform to it. This can be harmful to women by encouraging dieting, eating disorders and cosmetic surgery, or simply by making them feel inadequate and ugly. Moreover, these contests force the models to look even slimmer and perfect all the time, thus encouraging anorexia and bulimia.
Naomi Wolf: "in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our unliberated grandmothers." Why? Because of how "cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us."
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Arguments

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Yes

There is nothing wrong with judging people primarily on their physical prowess - we do this all the time in competitive sport, where fitness and strength are major determinants of success. Every competition, of every kind, values certain qualities over others - we recognise that being able to lift heavy weights isn’t the prime definition of human worth, but we can still give prizes for weightlifting; similarly, we can give a prize to a beautiful woman for her beauty without implying that beauty is all that matters about anyone.


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No

Women in beauty contests are judged on their physical appearance rather than on any other qualities they may possess (the existence of a ‘talent’ element in many such contests is all very well, but ugly women simply aren’t going to win). Judging women, but not men, primarily on their looks contributes to the subjugation of women because other qualities, such as intelligence, are not seen as part of ideal femininity and therefore not as things to which women should aspire. Ideal masculinity, while in itself potentially damaging to men, tends to be construed in much wider and less restrictive terms - it is notable that male beauty contests, judging men on their physical appearance, are much less popular than female ones.

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Argument #3

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Yes

Beauty contests, like sport, can be an important focus of national or regional pride. Despite the declining popularity of competitions such as Miss World in the UK, they hold an important cultural place in many parts of the world. The victories in recent years of Miss India, Miss Turkey and Miss Nigeria in Miss World competitions made many Indians, Turks and Nigerians proud, and were seen as symbolic of those countries’ progress in competing with more powerful countries on their own terms.


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No

The image of female beauty promoted by beauty contests is culturally specific and western - it doesn’t matter how many Asian women win Miss World, they can still only do so if they take part in the swimsuit competition, which may well not be considered appropriate dress in their culture. There were demonstrations against Miss World by feminists and Hindu nationalists when it was held in Bangalore in 1996. Riots in Kaduna in northern Nigeria over Miss World 2002 left more than 200 dead and led to the contest being moved to London.

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Argument #4

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Yes

In an environment where women are valued on solely on their appearance, and in which there are more opportunities for men, beauty contests give women an opportunity to improve their situations. Winning a beauty contest can be a a first step toward a successful life later in the future. Many Hollywood actresses are former beauty queens, and they would not have reached their success without the beauty contests they won. In addition, the winners of high-profile beauty contests are able to publicize charities and causes they feel strongly about - they have a public platform they could not otherwise have gained.


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No

Beauty contests fail to challenge harmful political attitudes to women. Despite paying lip-service to feminist keywords such as empowerment and self-confidence, they do nothing concrete to aid the liberation of women; indeed, by reinforcing looks as the most important feminine quality, they harm women’s liberation in general. The fact that the organisers of Miss World 2002 had no problem with holding the contest in Nigeria at the same time as a high-profile case in which a woman was due to be stoned for adultery exposes the competition’s hypocrisy; it was only relocated after rioting made it unsafe to hold it in Nigeria.

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Pro/con resources

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Yes


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No


See also

External links

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