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A Response to Kate Gillett's Piece, 'There Is an Ugly Truth About Beauty Pageants'

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Thank you for stopping by! I teach drama, run a drama club, and write because I must.

A few days ago, I came across an article by Kate Gillett in the online version of The National titled ‘There is an ugly truth about beauty pageants’. This piece is a response to some of the points raised in Gillett's article.

'Miss Universe is beautiful'

You don't say!

You don't say!

One sentence in particular, for me, stands out in Gillett's article: ‘The thing is, Tunzi is beautiful.’

Gillett is referring to Zozibini Tunzi, the black South African woman who became Miss Universe 2019. And she's complaining.

This is why Gillett’s sentence - ‘The thing is, Tunzi is beautiful’ - surprised me. Miss Universe is beautiful? You don’t say. (Actually, Tunzi is very beautiful. Google her images to see for yourself.)

Black may be the antithesis of white, fat of skinny, short of tall, asymmetry of symmetry; however, that doesn't make height, slenderness, and symmetry the preserve of non-black women.

'Person of Color'



According to Tunzi, she grew up in a world where a woman who had her kind of skin and hair was never considered beautiful. In Gillett's opinion, 'there’s no denying those are poignant words, especially coming from a woman of colour . . . '

I'll do a separate piece on the term person of color someday. At this time I'll only point out that South Africans, Pakistanis and Mexicans are all persons of color. However, the distance between South Africa and Pakistan is over 8000 km and the distance between Pakistan and Mexico is around 14,000 km.

For the sake of everyone's sanity, stop lumping together nations that have nothing in common beyond the fact that they are not of European descent.

'The' Problem

Beauty contests are won by beautiful people. Life is so unfair.

Beauty contests are won by beautiful people. Life is so unfair.

According to Gillett, while some children will see themselves reflected in Tunzi, many more won’t. And, for Gillett, that’s ‘the’ problem (and presumably the ‘ugly truth’ about beauty pageants that she refers to in the title): ‘these pageants hold near-impossible standards that the majority of people fall short of.’

In other words, beauty contests are won by beautiful women. Who would have thought it, eh?

Celebrating Every Body Type

Celebrating every body shape

Celebrating every body shape

Gillett wants to know what happened to celebrating all body shapes. In her opinion, beauty pageants are harmful ‘to anyone who still might think body shape, size and having a symmetrical face has anything to do with how beautiful someone is.'

Prejudice Against Blacks

For a long time, the world tolerated, if not celebrated, every body shape and size and asymmetrical face, provided they were not black.

Take the example of a fictional black hero: Shakespeare’s Othello. Being Chief of Staff of the Army, he must be tall, broad-shouldered, and fighting fit. Yet Brabantio asks Othello how Desdemona could have been drawn ‘to a thing as thou, to fear, not to delight’. Later, he expresses his incredulity to the Senate thus: ‘To fall in love with what she fear'd to look on!’

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If these remarks were to be made about a tall, broad-shouldered, fit, and successful white man, they would be met with gales of laughter.

Human being

Human being

But when the same man is black, it is his white wife who will, in Brabantio’s words, ‘incur a general mock’. And even she cannot see he is quite a catch as her (unnecessary) explanation for falling in love with Othello reveals: she saw his face ‘in his mind’.

Human Being

Human Being

Beauty Standards

It’s only a matter of time, according to Gillett, before standards in pageantry ‘expand beyond the realms of tight-fitted gowns’ and the participants ‘will have begun to reflect how diverse the world really is.’ In other words, with beauty standards ‘expanding’ to include black people, we can expect them to ‘expand’ to include short and fat people, too.

You have to laugh: black women who become beauty queens don’t do so because the judges decide to celebrate diversity of skin color rather than, say, body shape; they win by meeting exactly the same near-impossible standards as their non-black counterparts. Gillett herself acknowledges that this is so since that is precisely the ‘truth’ that she finds ‘ugly’: standards at global pageants haven’t changed at all.

Or, to put it another way, they haven’t slipped at all.

Should Pageants Do Away With Standards?

Should beauty pageants ‘expand’ (read: ‘do away with’) standards? That is a separate subject and has no more to do with a black woman’s being crowned Miss Universe than it ever did with a non-black woman's being crowned Miss Universe.

© 2020 Anya Ali


Anya Ali (author) from Rabwah, Pakistan on September 26, 2020:

@Peggy: Thank you, Peggy!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on September 25, 2020:

I enjoyed learning from you that in your country, beauty pageants are held to raise funding for charities and that regular clothing is worn.

Anya Ali (author) from Rabwah, Pakistan on March 13, 2020:

@Umesh: Thank you very much.

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on March 13, 2020:

Interesting observations by the author. Liked it. Thanks.

Anya Ali (author) from Rabwah, Pakistan on February 19, 2020:

@Peggy: Thank you for commenting!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on February 19, 2020:

I have no idea if beauty pageants will ever end. Some young girls become anorexic because of striving to achieve that so-called perfect body shape. Accentuating outer beauty in place of inner beauty is missing the mark, in my opinion. As to the factor of color, at least all winners are no longer just one color, so that is progress.

Anya Ali (author) from Rabwah, Pakistan on February 16, 2020:

@Olusegun: Thank you!

OLUSEGUN from NIGERIA on February 16, 2020:

Good response. Educated minds ought to grow beyond mediocrity and racial differences.

Anya Ali (author) from Rabwah, Pakistan on January 31, 2020:

@Harish: Thank you!

Harish Mamgain from New Delhi , India on January 31, 2020:

I think beauty has been lavishly showered by nature on black, white, and other communities. As for beauty pheasants, whoever meets their standards, she gets to wear the crown on her head. I admire all beautiful nymphs irrespective of color. Bushra, you have penned a thought provoking article.

Anya Ali (author) from Rabwah, Pakistan on January 29, 2020:

@JC Scull: Thank you!

JC Scull on January 29, 2020:

Great article.

Anya Ali (author) from Rabwah, Pakistan on January 29, 2020:

@umeed: Thank you for reading my article and commenting on it!

umeed on January 29, 2020:

yeah,contents of a charater are ignored and apparell is appriciated.paradoxes of time we are bound to live in

Anya Ali (author) from Rabwah, Pakistan on January 28, 2020:

Thank you for your comment! I'm no oil painting either and I know only too well how the world judges you on the basis of your physical appearance and what an advantage good-looking people have over homely-looking folk.

Pakistan regards Miss Universe and Miss World as worse than 'terribly silly' and participates in neither; however, we do have our own beauty contests, often to raise funds for charity: participants wear what we normally do (sarees, shalwar-kameez, etc.) and men are barred from entry.

I don't grudge physically beautiful men and women the right to celebrate their physical beauty; it's not their fault people are judged for their physical appearance in settings where what you look like should have no importance at all.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 28, 2020:

It's an interesting topic. On the one hand, I find beauty pageants to be terribly silly. Beauty has so many definitions. Why do we just celebrate the physical beauty? Of course, this is being written by a rather drab, boring-looking person, so you would expect me to say that, wouldn't you? :)

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