This House would ban beauty contests

The First modern Beauty Pageants took place in the United States in the second half of the 19th Century with the first Miss United States bathing beauty contest being held at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware in 1880.[1] 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 – up to 3 billion viewers in 120 countries.[2] 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.

 

Title 
Beauty contests are patriarchal
Point 

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 by comparison to this ‘ideal’ that is promoted. Moreover, these contests force the models and contestants to look even slimmer and perfect all the time, thus encouraging anorexia and bulimia.

Naomi Wolf argues that "in terms of how we feel about ourselves physically, we may actually be worse off than our un-liberated grandmothers." Why? Because of how "cruelly images of female beauty have come to weigh upon us." [1] This pressure has therefore forced a backwards step that reduces freedom of women when in almost every other area of life there have been great advances.

[1] Naomi Wolf, ‘The Beauty Myth’.

Counterpoint 

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.   Moreover doing so is little different from judging people on non-physical qualities such as intellect.  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.

Title 
Beauty contests objectify women
Point 

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.

Counterpoint 

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.   Moreover doing so is little different from judging people on non-physical qualities such as intellect.  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.

Title 
Beauty contests are culturally insensitive
Point 

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. This clash of cultures has led to numerous protests, demonstrations and even violence when beauty contests are going on. 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.[1]

[1] CNN, ‘Obasanjo blames media for Miss World riots’

Counterpoint 

Riots often have many causes and it is only the spark that is picked up upon. The example of the riots in Kaduna is misleading; there were serious underlying tensions that were the root cause.[1]

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.

[1] Astill, James, ‘The truth behind the Miss World riots’, The Guardian, 30 November 2002 

Title 
Beauty contests are an avenue of opportunity that women are entitled to pursue
Point 

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 first step toward a successful life in the future; the most attractive earn 12% more.[1] 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.

Beauty pageants can also empower in other ways: The Miss America competition is the largest provider of scholarship assistance for women in the world[2], indeed it pioneered assistance for women in higher education in the 40’s and 50’s.[3]

[1] Day, Elizabeth, ‘Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital by Catherine Hakim – review’, The Observer, 28 August 2011.

[2] Miss America, 'Purpose' 

[3] Hilary Levey Friedman, ‘There She Goes: A Trailblazing Feminist Beauty Queen’, Huffington Post, 15 March 2011

Counterpoint 

Beauty contests are part of the system that values women solely on their appearance.  It is better to break down that system than seek to work within it.

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.[1]

Assigning scholarship funds based on physical appearance rather than academic merit is unfair because it neuters the aspirations of many regardless of how hard they might work.

[1] Bloom, Alexis and Cassandra Herrman, Frontline World, ‘Nigeria – The Road North’, PBS, January 2003.

Title 
Beauty pagents are about moral than physical aesthetics
Point 

Modern Beauty pageants have mandatory talent portions and are more about establishing and striving for an ‘ideal’ than rating physical beauty.  This was specifically made mandatory by Lenora Slaughter in the 1938 Miss America Pageant in order to attract “ladies” to participate in the competitions. The modern form of the beauty pageant was designed by women in order to attract women.[1]

[1] Hilary Levey Friedman, ‘There She Goes: A Trailblazing Feminist Beauty Queen’, Huffington Post, 15 March 2011

Counterpoint 

This is a red herring – beauty pageants are primarily about physical attractiveness.  Broadcasting data shows that viewers turn off Miss America for the talent and interview portions of the show while continuing to watch the swimsuit portion.[1]

[1] Peterson, Ivan, ‘A Challenge for Miss America in Reality TV Era’, The New York Times, 9 April 2005

Title 
Self defined feminists do not have the right to dictate how other women relate to their femininity
Point 

A ban is a very blunt instrument with which to attack a practice. Banning beauty contests would do little to destroy the ideal of beauty as it is prevalent in many other areas of society which are unrelated to Beauty Pageants such as advertising, fashion and the entertainment industry. The only result of a ban will simply be to reduce the choice of women – who of course do choose to participate. Choice is fundamentally a good thing and everyone should have as much choice as possible so long as they are not limiting the choice of others.

Counterpoint 

Beauty Pageants do limit the choice of others due to putting pressure on women to conform to this ideal of beauty which is promoted. This is limiting the lifestyle choices of many more women than choose to take part in the pageants.

Bibliography 

Astill, James, ‘The truth behind the Miss World riots’, The Guardian, 30 November 2002, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2002/nov/30/jamesastill

Bloom, Alexis and Cassandra Herrman, Frontline World, ‘Nigeria – The Road North’, PBS, January 2003, http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/nigeria/thestory.html

CNN, ‘Obasanjo blames media for Miss World riots’, 26 November 2002, http://articles.cnn.com/2002-11-26/world/riots.obasanjo_1_kaduna-riots-nigerian-people?_s=PM:WORLD

Day, Elizabeth, ‘Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital by Catherine Hakim – review’, The Observer, 28 August 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2011/aug/28/honey-money-catherine-hakim-review

Friedman, Hilary Levey, ‘There She Goes: A Trailblazing Feminist Beauty Queen’, Huffington Post, 15 March 2011 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/hilary-levey/miss-america_b_834578.html

Miss America, ‘Purpose’, http://missamerica.org/scholarships/purpose.aspx

Miss World, The Miss World History, 2011, http://www.missworld.com/pages/History_Of_MissWorld/5.html

Peterson, Ivan, ‘A Challenge for Miss America in Reality TV Era’, The New York Times, 9 April 2005, http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/09/nyregion/09pageant.html?pagewanted=1

Riverol, A. R., Live from Atlantic City A History of the Miss America Pageant, Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1992, http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=sf1dR1iEC78C

Wolf, Naomi, ‘The Beauty Myth’.

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