Indian Ink

Why Beauty Pageants Degrade Women

Mary Panetta, Entertainment Editor

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Beauty pageants, which became popular in the 1880’s, objectify women and should cease for several reasons. For one, pageants start at a young age during which young girls participate without a choice in the matter. Additionally, pageants sexualize women as a form of entertainment and promote standards of beauty that are unrealistic and can contribute to the development of eating disorders. Being a young woman myself, I have insight into how society upholds standards for young women. Society holds unrealistic feminine qualities in high regard. Women are expected to wear makeup and dress in skirts instead of suits. Everyone has a reality television show that is secretly his or her guilty pleasure, such as one in which the beauty pageant princess throws a temper tantrum every time she doesn’t get her way. This includes not being able to take a day off from dance class, or not being able to eat a cookie because she’s on a diet. The tantrums and breakdowns are a sad reality that many beauty pageant contestants have faced, leading to artificial values in their lives.

Usually, pageant contestants start at a young age, and those participating are too young to say no. A 2005 study showed that beauty pageants are not in the best interest of healthy childhood development because they can impact self-esteem, body image, and lead to trust issues (“Childhood Beauty”). A consequence of participating in contests that rely on something as superficial as looks lead these young girls to focus on just that: is their hair too flat, or is their skin too pale? In addition, children generally do what their parents tell them to do. If mom or dad is encouraging their child to be in beauty contests, their child will most likely comply. Moreover, stress is a common result of participating in beauty pageants, due to the constant fear of losing. From the time children aren’t even a year old, to about the age of 27, they have to constantly focus on good diet, exercise, and overall beauty in hopes of winning pageants for prizes such as scholarships. This constant, hair-graying stress could also impact the relationship between a young girl and her parents. For instance, fights break out if she is reluctant to go to dance class, and she becomes fearful of losing because she doesn’t want to disappoint her parents or waste the money spent on making her a “winner.” Pageants create an unhealthy developmental environment for young girls due to the egregious amounts of stress and constant fear of failure.

In addition, beauty pageants, like the Miss America Organization, have made contests into a form of entertainment by sexualizing young women, and are another way for people to make money. Dorothy Poteat, who is the Director of Southern Elite Pageants, said on that matter that a “glitz pageant six times a year can easily run $10,000” (“Money, Millionaires”). The entertainment aspect of pageants is powered by submission in a patriarchal society as well as female insecurity, specifically regarding weight and body type uncertainty. These contests teach women to value their looks over their knowledge because the lesson learned during pageant participation is that looks will make girls successful and well known. Some argue that beauty pageants have some good in them, like the fact that these contests actually build a sense of community and each girl feeds off one another to build confidence. However, the exact opposite occurs: the contestants despise one another due to the high stakes of winning, and confidence is destroyed due to the unachievable standards of beauty. Similarly, due to the fact that most contests are on television, women, even those who don’t participate in contests, feel pressured to act and look like the women who win beauty pageants. This standard that was created for women is an unrealistic expectation. Beauty pageants are a form of entertainment for others that destroy opportunities of equality for men and women, primarily due to the fact that women are expected to wear skimpy outfits and do jobs that require minimal knowledge.

Furthermore, beauty pageants hold women to standards of unachievable and artificial beauty, which leads to cognitive-emotional problems as well as eating disorders. In 2007, the American Psychological Association reported, “the hypersexualization of young girls is strongly associated with eating disorders, low self-esteem, and depression. It can also even lead to fewer girls pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics” (“5 Reasons”). Self-image issues are a huge problem in today’s society, and encouraging girls to look like models increase the chance that they could develop mental, emotional, and physical disorders. Many of the girls that see pictures of models don’t realize that those photographs are extremely photoshopped, or that there is the possibility that the model herself doesn’t maintain a healthy diet. This leads to never-ending stress, and some women take it a step further, trying to achieve artificial beauty with long-run damaging medical procedures such as facelifts and Botox injections. These women experience paranoia and anxiety because they are worried about the food they eat, the weight they gain, the amount they exercise, and the way they look. Beauty pageants, due to their popularity, teach many girls to rely on their looks as a means of success, and women will do anything to achieve that beauty, even if it involves the diminishment of their health.

Overall, society upholds standards of beauty that are simply unrealistic and unachievable. Since the beginning of time, the world has been a patriarchal society.  Beauty pageants are another way to reinforce that, and denounce feministic views, in order to achieve a more egalitarian society. So, how does this stop? How do women gain the respect they deserve? Stop beauty pageants. Stop reinforcing the idea that women always have to be “feminine”. Accept all women, for who they are and how they look. Society holds this stereotype that there is only one form of beauty, which is tall and thin; however, that is not the case and it leads only to discrimination and self-confidence issues. Little girls need to be taught at a young age that they are beautiful, independent of their looks. Beauty should not be defined by superficial characteristics, but rather by inner quality.

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Why Beauty Pageants Degrade Women