Are Beauty Pageants Really Helping Young Women Achieve Their Dreams or Just Validating Beauty Stereotypes?
Anukreethy Vas being crowned by Manushi Chhillar (Photo Credits: @feminamissindia)

"You are beautiful only if you are tall, slim and light-skinned": Sounds familiar? Well, this isn’t just the definition of beauty  in India but also that of the beauty pageants worldwide, especially the Miss India contest. These pagents feature women who are  all tall, skinny and in high heels, posing in the same way and wearing a broad smile on their faces. It's weird how they all look just the same!

Anukreethy Vas from Tamil Nadu won the Miss India 2018 title on June 19 and been making news since. But if you take a closer look at the contestants, they all start looking identical by the end of the event.

And it is not a co-incidence but a deliberate attempt to make them look alike. Let's first address some facts. The height bar for the Miss India contest is 5 feet 5 inches. So, a girl below that height, no matter how confident and graceful can’t participate. Also, there is an age limit of 25 years. Once they enter the contest, they undergo an elaborate training to transform themselves into 'divas'.

Their make-up, hair and clothes look pretty much the same. Irrespective of their natural hair texture, these girls are made to trim, straighten and style their hair in identical ways. They are made to wear similar clothes. And the contestants hardly have a say in picking them out.

Though in the recent times, some contestants have expressed their discomfort and tried to change the standard norms. Like, in 2017 Miss Universe Great Britain contestant, Muna Jama, who is a practicing Muslim, didn’t want to wear a bikini. She instead wore a Kaftan. Her stance made news and she was appreciated worldwide.

Muna Jama wore a kaftan instead of a bikini for the Miss Universe Great Britain contest in 2017. (Photo Credits: Facebook)

But such instances are rare. At large, there is a basic ignorance and mindlessness on part of both the contestants and the organisers in terms of confirming to the standard beauty norms. In fact, in some big cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, there are beauty pageant training centers dedicated to training young women who want to participate in these contests. And after a woman is selected for the contest, she goes through more rigorous training sessions to remove every trace of her individuality.

Everything including how she speaks to how she walks, her clothes and looks are managed by a set of experts. They are groomed to look, talk and act in ways that ­­­conform to the standard ideas of beauty, popularly accepted in the society.

The problem with these pageants is that while they have the opportunity to promote and present a woman’s individuality in the purest form, but they choose against it. It is almost like a factory manufacturing fully-groomed beauty queens year after year, altering their natural personalities.

A lot of young girls, looking at these 'well-groomed' women on television and magazine covers, grow up to believe what beauty pageants represent is the standard. Not all of us are naturally blessed with "perfect" hair, skin and figure. For the beauty pageant contestants,grooming may serve to boost their confidence, but for those aspiring young girls, such representations can dent their self-image. They are bound to feel troubled by their "imperfections" and constantly crave for unattainable beauty standards.

These beauty contests are therefore doing more harm than good. Yes, it is a conscious choice for women to look and feel a particular way. They enter the contest knowing how they will be trained and what they want to achieve. But these pageants can use their influence and set an example by valuing each contestant's individuality, rather than making them all look alike.

The one who manages to look, sound and act the closest to their warped definition of perfect is declared the winner. There are several other rounds, where their intelligence and personality are also tested. But all of that becomes moot when their real caliber is suppressed.

These beauty pageants aren’t really as harmless as they might seem. They are only validating the already existing beauty norms that are unrealistic and not attainable for regular women. And eventually altering perspectives of aspiring young women, hampering their confidence and destroying their self esteem.