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Saturday, October 1, 2016

Alicia Machado's Story Proves That Beauty Pageants Should Be Gone With the Wind

ali1
Alicia Machado, annoyingly referred to as “former beauty queen” by the media, has come into the news again because of the presidential campaign. Her story involves becoming Miss Universe in 1996, unfortunately the same year that one Donald Trump bought the pageant. During her reign Machado gained some weight (according to Trump she went from 116 to 160 pounds), and Trump learned of her appeal to the pageant organization to help her lose the excess pounds. He got involved to the point of attracting publicity about her attempted weight loss, much to Ms. Machado’s embarrassment. His treatment of her during that time created buzz in the media, and now 20 years later it has all come back to the surface.

ali2My purpose has nothing to do with Trump – he is just a blip on the periphery here. I am moved by Machado’s story to shine a light on the cause of women of all sizes and shapes who are no doubt as mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore. A woman’s appearance should have nothing to do with becoming Miss Universe or getting any other job for that matter.

Imagine a young woman aspiring to be the one of the most famous women in the world, and then go one step further – she is bestowed with the title Miss Universe. The contest centers not on the woman’s intelligence, personality, or skills, though there is an obligatory nod to those things throughout the proceedings. The element that matters most is how the woman looks and, more importantly, the contours of her body. As I heard someone once say over objections about the bathing suit competition, “Well, it’s a beauty contest after all.”

There lies the rub – what is beauty? For most people it is a subjective thing, and sometimes love has everything to do with it. When a friend of mine brought an overweight girl home from college and introduced her to his family and friends as his girlfriend, on the side people were ribbing him and making fun of the girl. One obnoxious guy asked, “How can you go out with a girl who looks like that?”

My friend responded, “You don’t see her with my eyes.” Beauty is indeed in the eyes of the beholder; in fact, it always has been. Unfortunately, society has interfered with nature and has corrupted the concept of beauty. The great poet John Keats once wrote, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,” (he was referring to beauty as an enduring spiritual matter) but all these years later the truth about what is truly beautiful seems more and more impossible to discern.

While this beauty contest thing has been going on for a long time, it is something I must admit I used to think was okay – at least until I had a daughter. Before she was born, I would watch Miss America and Miss Universe broadcasts. Not tuning in to see the talent portion of the show or to hear how these women felt about current events, I was pretty much there to enjoy the scenery.

ali4After my daughter was born I started to think differently. One time she was sitting in her highchair playing with toys, and as I went through my mail I realized that I had just received the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated. I looked at the picture of Czech model Petra Nemcova on the cover and then glanced at my little girl and felt something like a knife piercing my heart. What kind of world did I want her to grow up in; certainly not one where she would be judged by her appearance and expected to conform to such an unrealistic ideal of womanhood.

I threw that magazine into the recycling bin that day, and I recognized just how demeaning these contests and magazines can be. Of course, it is not only the men who are pressuring women to be sexy and skinny; women are just as guilty, especially those who are the models on magazines covers, ones who star in movies and television shows, and even those everyday females who walk around competing with one another in glamour games that are like an almost more ruthless version of The Hunger Games. It seems everyone is in part responsible for such irresponsibility.

slide_368656_4228130_freeThere are just too many culprits in this nefarious – and it is indeed sinister – plot to construct an ideal to which women must aspire. I recall the British model Twiggy who was famous when I was a kid, and I remember my mother saying, “No real woman looks that way.” Of course, Twiggy was a real young woman but with an almost skeletal figure; she became an iconic fashion symbol and no doubt caused many girls to try to starve themselves in order to look impossibly thin like her.

We can definitely point fingers at the fashion industry, the media, the movies, and TV; we can blame mostly male directors and studio heads who for decades ran Hollywood and the media, promoting the glamour queens that became the ideal for both men and women; however, the beauty pageant organizations are even bigger antagonists in the narrative of young girls and women searching for self-esteem. The situation with Alicia Machado only highlights the disregard pageants have for women as individuals – they are a product and have no choice but to conform.

Do we really need beauty pageants in 2016? They serve as salient reminders that society seems to value women more for their appearance than anything else. It would seem that it is time to dispense with these annual charades that advertise themselves as contests that supposedly empower women but do nothing more than qualify and objectify them.

Newly crowned Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, from Maracay, Venezuela poses after receiving her crown during the Miss Universe Pageant in Las Vegas, Friday, May 17, 1996. Miss Universe is hitting the gym, trying to reduce her weight in light of recent criticism. (AP Photo/Lennox McLendon)Why not create a whole different kind of contest where the winner is not crowned with a tiara and asked to prance around wearing a bathing suit and high heels? These contests could be something like Jeopardy! where they could showcase their intellect. They could compete in athletic tournaments and displays of talent including dance, art, or music. All of this could result in a top prize but based solely on accomplishments and skills, having nothing to do with the way the person looks or dresses.

It is time to get rid of the beauty pageant as we know it. The term alone is insulting. I have seen great beauty in the women in my life, and I’ve come to appreciate that it had nothing to do with the way they looked. That beauty emanated from within, manifested by love and compassion, and the happiness and fulfillment I experienced conjured a desire to return those feelings.

Many of us have known what society calls beautiful people who turn out to be quite ugly inside. They succeed in life getting by on looks, but there is a seething monster beneath surface that, when provoked, suddenly bears its fangs and claws, exposing the real person to the world. Turns out that the cliché "Don't judge a book by its cover" is pretty much accurate here.

For the sake of all our daughters (and maybe even more importantly our sons), we should promote a movement that supports and encourages people to be seen for what truly matters – who we are, what we do, and how we treat  others. We should all aspire to make that a reality in this world, and that would be truly beautiful!

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