BY DOMINIC WIGHTMAN
The news this week that Arna Ýr Jónsdóttir (pictured), the current Miss Iceland, quit an international beauty pageant after she was told to lose weight has caused quite a rumpus.
The 20-year-old was reportedly told by representatives at Miss Grand International that she needed to lose weight before next week’s competition. Instead she decided to quit the competition, posting her resignation letter on Instagram. Jónsdóttir wrote emphatically to Miss Grand International’s male boss, Nawat Itsaragrisil:
“I am a very strong woman, but sometimes my strength isn’t enough. Your staff told me that I had to lose weight for the finals because I have too much fat on me and also too big shoulders. They told me to lose weight and you would like me more. I decided to leave. I’ve been Miss World Iceland, placed 14th after judging interview in Miss World, I won another pageant (Miss EM) and with all my qualities and good experience I come with my passion and hard work to your pageant. Four days before stage they tell me that I’m too fat for you. Actually, if anyone tells me that I’m too fat or whatever, they just don’t deserve me. And that’s why I left. Miss Grand International doesn’t deserve my face, body, personality or heart. I truly hope that the organisation opens their eyes because the year is 2016 and if you are gonna hold an international pageant, you have to see the international beauty. In my country, my body shape is perfect. And that’s what I’m gonna remember. No one will ever tell me anything else.”
The public reaction on social media to Miss Jónsdóttir’s letter spanned a spectrum from angry:
To so what?:
So, should beauty pageants, as Shelly Hill suggests, be banned? Or do beauty pageants have redeeming features that are overlooked by those who want to see them vanish?
On the one hand, many – including the bulk of modern day feminists – want to see beauty contests banned. They claim that pageants objectivise women. Beauty Pageants, they argue, make women feel like they must diet and starve themselves to be satisfactorily skinny. Pageants encourage a perceived perfection centred around what men consider to be the perfect female body shape, forcing participants to get unnecessary plastic and cosmetic surgery and succumb to anorexic tendencies.
Feminists complain that pageants barely take into consideration a participant’s intelligence. Feminists would argue that character and wit make a woman attractive and not merely superficial looks. And feminists chide pageants for the amount of jewellery, bling and make-up the participants wear, as if women without such adornments are somehow less attractive.
Feminists claim beauty pageants are for dim, malleable women – compliant objects of men’s desire rather than equals in a world where a woman is just as good if not better than a man. They link to videos of dumb beauty queen live interview answers suggesting the participants are all so brainless as to have been manipulated to take part in the pageants by evil men. Pageants, they yell, are demeaning to women and should be as extinct as the male dinosaurs who enjoy them and support them.
Those Thinking Feminists still out there – invariably the 1970’s feminists – tend to claim that beauty contests are an unfortunate reality of the shallow values that have been thrust upon society and perpetuated throughout the media so much so that they have become an “acceptable” part of our culture. We have been shaped to conform to a certain definition of beauty – that is not only outward, but also demeaning of the female gender and the media as well as the beauty contest franchises would have us believe that this is the only definition available.
Next look at the men who run these shows – the Octopus Donald Trump and now this sexist Nawat Itsaragrisil, the founder and owner of Miss Grand International.
For the sake of bringing back meaningful perspectives on what we value as society we should be rid of these sorts of contests, the Thinking Feminists espouse. Entrepreneur Phineas Taylor Barnum staged the first modern American pageant in 1854, but his beauty contest was closed down after public protest – the Feminists argue Society has regressed and pageants should be shut down like Barnum’s.
On the other hand, there are many men and women who are pro beauty pageants. They argue that Mister World and countless other beauty pageants – catering for transgender participants, men, gays and others – have levelled the pageant gender playing field and simultaneously levelled the feminists’ arguments.
How can female beauty pageants be objectivising women? Do male beauty pageants objectivise men? What about Thailand’s Miss Ladyboy contest where participants – some who have severed their male genitals – compete side by side as presumed equals with those still intact? How come, as with Eurovision, the most numerous and vocal supporters of female pageants are gay men?
Pageant supporters argue that pageants are fun for viewers, fun for participants and harmless. Participants join in the beauty pageants voluntarily and there is absolutely no compulsion. Should it be illegal for people to dress up, splash on lots of make-up, dare have fun and possibly win prizes? If people want to participate in pageants, then why should we stop them?
The pro-pageanters argue too that beauty pageants make for good businesses – the staging rights, sponsorship, TV and advertising revenues that beauty pageants earn can be very profitable to lands which lack resources – watchable beauty is a natural resource which is easy to monetise internationally.
Similarly, class divides can be smashed away by pure beauty just as they can by say sporting brilliance – a stunningly beautiful girl born in a Brazilian favela can rise through beauty contests to huge public recognition leading to an escape from poverty for her and her family. What a social mobility vehicle! How else do such people get ahead in life?
Finally, pro-pageanters argue that beauty is obvious and it must be celebrated. Do we really want to see Diane Abbott in a bikini contest? In case an Arna Ýr Jónsdóttir has a sister deemed hideously ugly by society, should that mean that Arna should boycott beauty pageants in solidarity with her aesthetically-challenged sibling? Or face up to the reality of her smoking hot babeness?
Where does my opinion lie across the pageant spectrum?
Let me put my cards on the table….
I happen to be married to a former beauty queen who was born in pageant-crazy Venezuela. Even before I met my wife, there were beauty queens that I knew as friends from a chance foray of my own into modelling after university. I am good friends with these former beauty queens decades later even though our modelling careers are long gone and we can all happily approach the deli counter nowadays without guilt of any kind.
Incidentally, none of these women happen to fit the feminist stereotype of a dim beauty queen. In fact, nowadays, all are go-getting businesswomen, who are self-confident, feisty and intelligent characters and not the kind of people you’d want to get on the wrong side of. Ironically (for the feminists) all of them are feminists. None would think about sending their own kids into a kid’s beauty pageant but all would allow their kids to enter a serious beauty pageant after they reached adulthood.
As the partner of a beauty queen I’ve experienced the wrath of feminists (mostly Brits) who asked me why I didn’t marry a local British girl. Was I so shallow that all I cared about was a woman’s looks?
My response to them has always been that love transcends locations, national boundaries and that beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. In any case, there are plenty of local beauty pageants in the UK – Miss World was founded by Eric Morley and his wife Julia now runs the show. If I’d genuinely been set on finding a beauty queen as a wife, I’d likely not have happened to have fallen in love with someone who happened to live, inconveniently, five thousand miles away.
When these feminists have in the past persisted with their line of argument – that I was pushed by society to box-tick winning a trophy wife – I have bravely asked them why they are so shallow as to be so full of hate for how some people look and how some perceive beauty.
What is the difference between their spite, I ask, and that of the male acid-throwers who get spurned by women and are desperate no other man shall have them? Or why not be done with aesthetic inequality and put all women in burkhas and objectivise womankind in one foul swoop? Would that help quell their motivations borne of jealousy, fear and inferiority?
None had ever met a beauty queen or a Mister. Nor had they ever understood that we humans are born with gifts we cannot change. Should we cut the vocal chords of the soprano Angela Gheorghiu? How about amputate one of Lionel Messi’s legs? Perhaps switch Professor Stephen Hawking to mute? If you follow their equalising logic through, there would be ceilings planted all over the place willy-nilly until we were all equal as we could be – but miserable and still unequal too.
I am pro beauty pageants not because of the positive experiences of my wife. I am pro beauty pageants because they throw a spanner into the flawed idea of equal society – adding a splash of colour to what would be increased grey drabness in a world where they were banned. (I am the first to admit they can be awfully naff – I cannot say that I go out of my way to ever attend the Miss Suffolk preliminaries. They can also be spectacularly fantastic – the Miss Venezuela competition has an audience of hundreds of millions as it’s a stunningly choreographed show).
Whilst I have great sympathy for pulchritudinous Arna Ýr Jónsdóttir and think a nation should vote its most beautiful to represent them in international pageants, which should in turn respect a nation’s vote, I just feel that the meme of inferiority has infected the minds of far too many men and women in our society. They lash out at any perceived strength and seem to revel in their own shortcomings.
“Why should I be strong?” they ask, “Am I not good enough like I am? It isn’t my fault I’m poor, weak, lonely!” Instead of rooting out the weeds in their own lives, they excuse their lack of success, their physiques, and their poor relationships by blaming and punishing others. Their meme of inferiority is inextricably bound to the meme of victimhood.
While some may accept the reality of this equalising mindset, it’s vital to identify the root so that we who oppose it may learn to rip it out. Surely any arrangement of morality that elevates feebleness and demonises natural forte is incoherent and erroneous?
Nietzsche’s Zarathustra concludes his parable with a prophecy for the “sublime one”:
“To stand with relaxed muscles and with unharnessed will: that is the hardest for all of you, ye sublime ones! When power becometh gracious and descendeth into the visible—I call such condescension, beauty. And from no one do I want beauty so much as from thee, thou powerful one: let thy goodness be thy last self-conquest. All evil do I accredit to thee: therefore do I desire of thee the good. Verily, I have often laughed at the weaklings, who think themselves good because they have crippled paws! The virtue of the pillar shalt thou strive after: more beautiful doth it ever become, and more graceful—but internally harder and more sustaining—the higher it riseth. Yea, thou sublime one, one day shalt thou also be beautiful, and hold up the mirror to thine own beauty. Then will thy soul thrill with divine desires; and there will be adoration even in thy vanity! For this is the secret of the soul: when the hero hath abandoned it, then only approacheth it in dreams—the superhero.”
Beauty pageants shall remain controversial and a focus point for those who wish to see them abolished. Good.
Meanwhile let pageants continue to shake up society and make us learn to manifest our actual gifts rather than, like the Taliban, smashing down beauty in some nihilist assault.
Thus spake Zarathustra.