The measure of beauty

Carina Cruz
One young woman reflects on the value society places on beauty

I have been told to lose weight because having curves or being voluptuous is not as ideal as being lean or stick thin.

I have been told that I really am one of the last few people you’d think of when you’d hear the term “girly girl.” I’d be more associated with terms like “bruskong babae,” even.

I grew up being told to act “more like a lady.”

Although it didn’t bother me, I’ve wondered what is up with this need to move a certain way or even censor myself from saying certain things because it’s not “feminine?” What is up with this certain poise and this certain look; this guideline in a manual that I have to abide by to be an “ideal woman?” I had to know. I thought I could find the answers by watching beauty pageants. 

Apart from observing (but eventually disregarding, at some point) how women ‘should’ embody this elegance, the inner feminist in me couldn’t help noticing several deficiencies in this form of entertainment. (READ: What defines a woman?)

Beauty pageants celebrate the most beautiful women all over the world. The best-looking bunch is gathered on stage in a display of their charms, but only one gets to win the title of being the fairest of them all. Beauty pageants, with their continuous display of ensembles and never-ending catwalks have determined what the show is really all about: physical appearance and the standards set behind them.

 

Beauty and its relativity

These pageants promote beauty. It is a term that has no stable definition and it is a concept that caters to diverse cultural norms. Beauty is relative. Its existence or absence depends on a person’s judgment and point of view. Society argues that beauty pageants not only promote the relativity but the variety of beauty, because beauty evidently comes in all shapes and sizes.

But why is it that there are certain height requirements and weight limits that are unreachable just for one to pass the screening and be a contestant? For instance, according to the official contestant entry form for Miss World Philippines, “only Filipino women who are at least five feet and six inches tall are allowed to join.” Has there ever been a contestant who is slightly bigger or shorter than the rest, who all have tiny waistlines, long spider-like legs, shiny hair and flawless skin, embodying their model-like figure and slim physique? (READ: I am not pretty for your pleasure)

The relativity of beauty has clearly been defied, given the kind of contestants we see on beauty pageants, and the kind whose appearance doesn’t even pass the screening process. This implies that their physical features are not suitable for a show that would supposedly present “beautiful” people. Where does that leave the rest of the women with “normal” bodies, “normal” figures, and “normal” appearances? Next to what the pagaents deem as “perfect women,” what is the worth of the rest?

Highlighting intellect

Beauty must come hand-in-hand with personality and substance, or so we are told. This is why beauty pageants allot a question-and-answer portion to showcase the contestants’ intellect. 

But why is it that, for a show that lasts 2-3 hours, only 5 to 10 minutes are allotted for the question-and-answer (Q&A) portion for the finalists? Also, they have to answer only one question.

Whether they are asked to prepare rehearsed speeches or think of their answers on the spot, the mechanics of the show clearly do not give justice to the candidate’s intelligence, or their personality which cannot be deciphered through just one question. Five minutes of answering questions about world peace cannot compensate for roughly an hour of shameless catwalks, incessant photos and superficial modelling. 

Media’s power

Amidst media’s claims that it is a tool for informative instead of persuasive purposes, I believe that media, to a certain extent, objectifies women. It provides a definite palette of beauty, given that it has the power to impose the social construct of what “beautiful” is. This definition of beauty degrades the female sex, having us believe that the social construct is the only one we should conform to, or at least the one that is most ideal.

The exceptionally long air time of the contestants highly emphasizes the importance of looking like them; thus, the set standard and somehow irreparable pressure of looking “beautiful.” People do not dictate media. Media, rather, dictates on people.  

An ideal pageant?

Society tends to impose a particular standard for what an “ideal woman” should be – a standard that most women aspire to reach. Beauty pageants, and society in general, should embrace a more pluralistic view of beauty, one where diversity is accepted and also celebrated, instead of sticking to one specific type of standard, given that it subtly implies oppression and inequality.

 

In my opinion, the ideal beauty pageant and its contestants would then include more realness. I would want to see less fake breasts and injected noses and more truthful (but still visually pleasing) waistlines and body cuts. I would want the industry to give their contestants a chance to show substance and a significant amount of their wit and character. It’s not just about having more questions, but also presenting sophisticated questions to the candidates.

 

It would be able to show that there is more to women than physical attributes. It would lessen the possibility of us being pegged as flawless Barbie dolls. That kind of image is not fair and is wholly unrealistic.

 

We should stop pushing this notion into women’s heads because it would make them lose confidence or even spite their bodies. We each have our own identity and our own quirks.

 

If beauty pageants follow a more relative, just, and more forgiving system, it can change society’s perspectives in a way that would help them understand the true concept of beauty and provide fairness and equality to women. – Rappler.com


Carina Cruz is a third year student at De La Salle University-Manila taking up a degree in Organizational Communication. She is a Rappler intern and a news writer for The LaSallian, one of the university’s student publications. You can read more of Carina’s work at carinuhhcruz.blogspot.com, her creative writing blog.

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