The Darker, Less-Sparkly Side Of Pageants (Eyes On You, Miss Universe)
Beyond the choreography of Binibing Pilipinas, Miss World and Miss Universe
Today, the world celebrated as a new Miss Universe was crowned—with the loudest shouts, cheers and claps coming from the Philippines, of course. Catriona Gray, the entire country’s bet, won fair and square. Her walk was unique and eye-catching, her answers spot-on and her confidence was bouncing off the walls.
Now our feeds are filled with congratulations and gifs of that slow-mo strut that captivated audiences around the world. We’ve had an up-close and personal look at that red dress that was inspired by and truly resembled the lava that spews from Mayon Volcano. We are rightfully celebrating the win that our country hoped for, prayed for and needed. But let’s not forget that even the brightest spots have dark corners.
The eyes, ears and mouths
The world is literally listening to every sound these women speak, watching every step that they make and taking in every outfit that they put on. In a space that’s this massive and this harsh, someone out there is bound to find a mistake. “Her smile isn’t genuine,” “She shouldn’t have said that,” “Her dress is ugly,” “She’s bigger than the rest of the contestants, isn’t she?”
The results come in the form of women who tire themselves to the bone, eat nothing most of us would call substantial and a handful of ungodly visits to the bathroom to fit into a size 0. The physically draining activities apart, there is the emotional baggage put on them, too.
Coaches, mothers, fathers and friends who—despite not intending so—put pressure on their beauty queen and bombard her with their own sets of advice: “Don’t trust anyone,” “There’s nothing to cry about,” “Say this,” “Say that” and “Keep smiling.”
A little over a month ago, a Miss Earth sponsor was called out for sexual harassment. In what others have called the pageant’s “biggest controversy in its 17-year history,” three contestants went on the record to claim having their phone numbers given away without their consent, being asked for their hotel room numbers and being made to dance.
The allegations, of course, were denied.
Then there is current US President Donald Trump, ex-president of the Miss Universe Organization—which held Miss USA and Miss Teen USA under its belt. Rolling Stone remembers Trump bragging about peeping at the girls and taking complete advantage of his position to do so. “I’m allowed to go in because I’m the owner of the pageant,” he said. “I’m inspecting it… ‘Is everyone okay?’” And then he had the audacity to continue with: “You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. And you see these incredible-looking women.”
These two instances don’t hold a candle to the long history of pageants. There are likely countless other instances, most never discussed.
And then there’s us
We, as watchers, have our role, too. We pick apart these contestants thinking our opinions won’t matter. We tell our friends that “Catriona Gray doesn’t even look Filipino” or that “A transgender woman shouldn’t be on that stage.” But hey, if they pass the technicalities of something as nitpicky as Miss Universe, then why are we throwing stones?
Yes, yes; it’s still good
These things said, competitions like Miss Universe still do some good. Even the most feminist person—who calls beauty pageants a way to codify beauty into a specific set of standards—will cheer for their country’s bet. Even the women who lose have the potential for a career after the stage lights turn off. The children that these women meet have smiles on their faces and the world moves on.
I’m not saying the dark side of Miss Universe overpowers the good; I’m saying that sometimes we need to see the whole picture instead of a few hours of choreographed walks and overtly-designed gowns. And I’m saying thank you to Miss Universe 2018, Catriona Gray, for bringing together a society that’s been particularly divided this year.
Art Alexandra Lara