About a month ago, I got a call from the university administration – all the Big People, on one mega teleconference…
Big People: Lina, we want to know what you think of beauty pageants?
Lina: [Brief pause. Inhale. And then:] blah blah blah blah blah objectifying women blah blah blah blah tool of the patriarchy blah blah blah blah eating disorders blah blah blah blah beauty industry blah blah exploitation blah blah blah blah violence against women blah blah blah]
[Monologue ends… eventually.]
Lina: Ummm… why do you ask?
Well, as it turns out, we’re now involved in the Miss Lebanon beauty pageant.
[Wait… whaaaa?! Why would IWSAW get involved in beauty pageants?!]
Here’s the thing: While we are clearly opposed to these events for obvious reasons, working with the pageant – and with contestants – presents a rare opportunity to reframe beauty and rethink what “beautiful” means – in a country where this definition is notoriously narrow, and largely unattainable.
[And… even if it were attainable, why would we all want to look the same?!]
So, we see this as a spark that could disrupt an industry that historically subjugates women – and build a better, inclusive, diverse definition of beauty. A potential game-changer for women and girls!
The Miss Lebanon competition is a huge event – everyone watches it. [Even the idea that it is called “Miss” Lebanon bugs me. There’s so much about this I want to disrupt!]
The point is, whether we like it or not, the pageant happens. And the winner invariably represents Lebanon. She is an ambassador with a responsibility to project the Lebanon we want to see – one that promotes equality, diversity, rights – not just physical traits.
And, contestants have a responsibility to be better role models for young women – for the next generation of women leaders. Women who, I would hope, will place greater value on other aspects beyond beauty.
Traditionally, Miss Lebanon focuses on superficial physical beauty of contestants despite feeble attempts at highlighting other qualities. It objectifies women in the media, highlights stereotypical feminine roles, and uses women’s bodies as a means of attracting audiences and generating revenue. Basing beauty standards on an unattainable ideal of the female body is destructive for women and girls – we all know the extent to which this fuels eating disorders and has long-term damaging consequences. The only ones who benefit are the beauty industry themselves!
Taking on the beauty industry is a feminist undertaking. For too long “beauty” has been defined by those who objectify, stereotype, and subjugate women. It’s time to create our own definition!
Is this going to launch a revolution? Likely not. But, will it start a conversation? Surely! At very least, it will instigate a critical, courageous, and long-overdue conversation on beauty. And, at very least, it could reshape media attention and redirect focus to more critical issues of equality and rights for women.
What is beauty, anyway?! It is subjective – cultural, temporal. It has evolved so much throughout time – one day it’s all about the boobs, the next day it’s about something else! Are we as women expected to expand and contract like an accordion to keep up with this stuff?!
Some other countries are reframing beauty pageants and promoting more empowering and body-positive approaches that reflect diversity of beauty… so maybe now it’s Lebanon’s turn!
The US banned the swimsuit competition as part of their pageant. In Peru, beauty contestants refused to reveal their body measurements, but rather opted to share disturbing statistics about the prevalence of violence against women in the country. For instance, one woman announced her “measurements” as: “2,202 cases of murdered women reported in the last nine years”.
So we’re testing this out – as a positive and innovative way to increase attention and accountability, with the potential to be very powerful and provocative.
Women are full, empowered human beings with agency and autonomy. Patriarchy may be persistent and powerful – but we can persevere. Redefining beauty has the potential to be transformative for women – and for everyone.
Beauty beyond bodies… let’s do this!