Beauty Contests Ė Right or Wrong?
I was recently invited to judge a prestigious Asian beauty contest held in the Uk. To protect the innocent lets just call it Miss Desi UK. I only agreed to be on the panel once I was reassured that there would be no swimwear parade. Iíve always had strong views about the purpose of such pagents as I am sure most of you do and since this was going to be more of a fashion show I was looking forward to it.
I remember a time when the whole family used to gather around the telly to watch Miss Uk and the granddaddy of them all: Miss World. Even my dad who was fervently religious, always gave his choice for winner. And I think generally we used to get our choices amongst the top 5 at least. In those days you always felt the judging was fair or maybe I was just too young and naÔve.
Today, for anybody who wants to compete for a crown, pageants can be wild, weird and wonderful. In addition to the usual Miss World and testosterone pumped Mr Universe we now have: Miss Gladrags (for married women), Miss Klingon , Miss Plastic Surgery etc. But then thereís just as many outright offensive competitions such as the Dwarf Awards, Miss African Tribe as well as numerous, especially in America and Japan, psychologically damaging, beauty contests for children.
I think you have to clearly distinguish the purpose of such pageants. Some are purely for selecting pretty faces, figures or tanned and toned muscles, so that the winners can become a model for brands or themselves a brand or whoever they want to be affiliated with.
I prefer those which try to determine an entrants talent. But this has to be beyond merely mimicking that he or she ďwant world peace and to work with orphans in a leper colony in IndiaĒ. Okay God may have blessed them with looks but do they possess any talent or other ability to make them stand out. Can they play a musical instrument, excel at a sport, can they sing, dance, act, anything that makes them stand out ? I certainly donít want to see a new, tall long legged, stony faced, soulless excuse of a clothes rack strutting unnaturally down a runaway and tossing me a sneer at the end. If the clothes donít put you off their demeanour certainly does. And we see enough of that attitude on some of our favourite airlines thank you!
The winner of this pageant would receive among other goodies, £10000 and a role in a Bollywood film. 15 girls had made it through from the 900 so who had been eliminated in previous rounds. I was not involved in the elimination process but it could not have been easy. The judges on the night were fairly prominent people. There was a soap star, a previous Miss UK winner, a couple of known actors had flown in from the US as well as one or two from Bollywood, including a fashion designer and musician.
On the morning of the competition, at 9 am about 6 of us judges, under the watchful eye of the independent adjudicator got to meet the girls for 5 minutes each. This gave us a useful insight into the girls background and their personalities. We marked the girls on different attributes such as confidence, presentation, likeability etc.
The event was extremely well attended with a live audience of about a thousand and additionally covered by the local media, Sony TV and with live internet streaming. Our hosts were two well known radio presenters.
Each of the judges was introduced and said a few words on stage. We were then entertained by a popular singer after which the girls paraded in evening wear, once in their own choice of clothing and once in formal attire. It was so fast that I didnít really get a chance to actually savour it properly. Not only was I marking in 3 different columns and adding up each girls score alongside I had to make relevant comments for each of them. Just as soon as Iíd finish totting up the scores the next girl would appear on stage. Some of the designer outfits were pretty amazing.
When the results came in the third runner up was a surprise for me and it wasnít because she was a white girl in an ďAsianĒ contest. However, I think the actual winner did stand head and shoulders above the others literally and I had also chosen the runner up in my top 5.
Time will tell if the winner has success in Bollywood as an actress, because those skills are difficult to determine without an audition. Or will she just be another pretty face walking down catwalks forever or more probably until her looks hold? Itís not to say these kind of models donít make a tidy sum posing for magazines and designers around the world. The world of fashion and brand modelling can be pretty lucrative and the fame can be on par with a Bollywood or Hollywood star.
Are such pageants a form of exploitation.? Well non of these entrants had previously made a living from modelling. Some had dabbled on a small scale. They saw this contest as an opportunity for proving something to themselves and those around them. For some it was a buzz and for others purely a window of opportunity, a little exposure they wouldnít have got sat at home watching the telly and now at least they were the ones being watched. Okay even if they did not win, I think they all took so much away from the experience and it might count for something on their artistic or modelling CV, if thatís the path they intend to pursue.
I believe if such competitions are conducted fairly, with decency and professionalism then they can actually be beneficial for all concerned. They may unearth a hidden talent that otherwise would remain undiscovered. However the format, structure judging and treatment of entrants must be fair and objective.