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“Real Queens Fix Each Other’s Crowns” Do Beauty Pageants Empower Women?

10 April 2021 06:00 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}



Less than one month after women’s day, an unfortunate twist of events was witnessed at the Mrs. Sri Lanka 2021 pageant, where one of the contestants, Mrs. Pushpika De Silva, an alleged divorcee and the winner of Mrs. Sri Lanka, was claimed ineligible to win the crown by the out-going Mrs. Sri Lanka 2020 and the current reigning Mrs. World 2020, Mrs. Caroline Jurie. After, much insistence by Mrs. De Silva that she was not in fact divorced, she was later re-crowned. Beauty contests have always been a subject of controversy, where satire has often been the lens through which they are viewed, however, some argue that they are in fact platforms for women to be heard on different levels, empowering them for leadership and mentorship roles.

This brings us to our main question; who makes the rules for these beauty pageants? Women are often seen to be disqualified from these pageants based on the underlying yet hidden adoption of “Western” beauty standards which are not applicable to South Asian women; for example, the required height criteria, English as a preferred language or the preference of fairer skin color. The contestants’ physical appearance and connection to the industry in Sri Lanka appears to be of primary importance, while motherhood, education, independence and even age have been viewed as obstacles to women’s fulfilment of an ideal image of beauty and poise required by these pageants. It is also evident that these contests are produced through economic, cultural and political processes.

The basis for the claim of ineligibility for the crown made by one of the contestants at the pageant was based on the international guidelines which does not permit a divorcee to take part in Mrs. World. Most of us, however, do not have access to these international guidelines and rulebooks that the beauty pageants rely on. Thus, the eligibility and criteria to enter and participate in Miss or Mrs. World pageants are not entirely clear. One may argue that it is in fact single parents and young mums who may benefit the most from the pageant experience. It is common for the organizers who pay for the franchise fees for these pageants to determine the rules of the competition, including the age and range of contestants thus giving them the right of rejection or acceptance and furthermore classifying women into categories based on their marital status.

Women should empower women and these pageants should be used as a platform for career advancement and national promotion as opposed to unhealthy competition. Instead of boosting respect for each other, the race for the crown at Mrs. Sri Lanka 2021 invoked an inappropriate competitive nature between the contestants where the title was stripped, and the crown was snatched off the winner.  Despite this, encouraging after-effects of pageants have been seen in the past where Justine Clarke, the first Australian woman in a wheelchair competed in the Miss World Australia contest or Mrs. Rosy Senanayake who won the first Mrs. World competition in 1985, and is also the current Mayoress of Colombo. These are examples of how pageants unify strong groups of women, looking to make a change, thus empowering the next generation of women to come.

Rosy Senanayake

These pageants have been around for a long time which has led to the formalization of unquestionable norms, drawn up in the form of international guidelines, that have been relied upon to announce the “winners” of these contests. These rules appear to be discriminatory and outdated today and should be amended to reflect women’s reality in the twenty-first century, where women are quite capable of balancing their careers and their personal lives. Today, standards of beauty, femininity and gender are far more diverse than they used to be with plus size models taking over the catwalks and international brands launching gender-neutral clothing lines.

The Human Rights Commission may be approached to make these rules or guidelines more inclusive thus ensuring greater equality at the pageants, which is also a fundamental freedom guaranteed by the Constitution of Sri Lanka. It is important that the industry protects the safety, dignity and security of all the pageant contestants, encouraging them to enter into politics, embark on higher education or careers and to even speak out on issues of domestic violence. The beauty pageants in Sri Lanka should therefore reflect “authentic” Sri Lankan cultural standards and values and should take into consideration the “real” women of Sri Lanka when assessing contestants.



  Comments - 1

  • Patrick Schokman Sunday, 11 April 2021 11:04 AM

    Whom do one blame when such immature incidents occure...the fact remains that who ever our local organisations are it has proved to have taken a slight twist of pure iliteracy. .watch the media have a hay day and a lot to bragg about.

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