Can beauty queens affect change?
Mar 27, 2015 | by Becky Oeltjenbruns
March is a great month – not only is it my birthday month (yay for cake!), but it’s also Women’s History Month. There are so many ways women have impacted history and continue to guide our future – whether it be through scientific discoveries, medical advancements, artistic contributions, business innovations, politics … truly, the list of cultural touchstones is endless. As a lady I find it very rewarding to see how much my gender rocks it out.
Before I delve into the topic at hand, I think it should be duly noted that overall I’m a pretty laid back person. I try to let the golden rule guide me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have my fair share of opinions (it’s part of this whole human experience after all!). So when people talk about beauty queens I have to admit that I don’t immediately consider that a noble aspiration for my gender. In a lot of ways it feels like a step back in our collective cultural development – women judged largely on their physical appearance/attributes within a very narrow scope of what’s considered “traditional beauty.” Sure there are scholarship components and I have no doubt that, like in all things, rising to this level of competition requires lots of hard work, focus, and sacrifice. But would this be something I’d choose to champion in my ode to Women’s History Month? I was dubious. Until I caught this headline.
Ariana Miyamoto recently became the first biracial woman to win the title of Miss Universe Japan. Take that to all those uptight folks who see beauty as an exclusive club – Ariana shows us all that beauty should include everyone. But sadly she is not getting the support and congratulations she deserves. I know I’m typically stuck in a dream world of vintage wonder, but I’m pretty sure it’s 2015 and all my vintage icons would be disgusted by this level of ignorance. I know I am. As Gina Mei brings up in her article, this societal reaction dredges up feelings of inadequacy that exist in the biracial community. Does this remind anyone else of that theme from the 1950s: women aren’t enough as is? Now back then it was a matter of consumerism, but that had obvious consequences for the perception of beauty. In light of this Miss Universe Japan headline, one has to wonder how far we’ve really come. I mean, just look at my article on women’s fitness history for further proof. Now that this Women’s History Month is coming to a close, can we all decide that enough is enough? We are amazing as is and I’d like to share with you all a mantra that I tell myself everyday: “I am strong. I am beautiful. The world needs me.” I’m going to work on not just telling myself that, but proclaiming it to the amazing women in my life – we all need to know how wonderful and meaningful we are. With that inclusiveness in mind, I find myself revisiting my original question: can beauty queens affect change? And because this is a vintage blog, I did a bit of digging to see if the answer has always been yes.
A similar beauty shakeup happened in 1945 when Bess Myerson became the first Jewish woman to win the title of Miss America. A towering figure, she became an overnight celebrity upon her win. Her successful pageant platform focused on her intelligence and it’s important to note that officials asked Bess to change her name for the competition. She refused (thankfully). That powerful spirit helped her as she entered a life of politics and social work following her win. It’s clear that women (no matter the role) can affect change and that we shouldn’t judge or predestine a role’s impact just because it doesn’t align with our own individual predilections. I’d like to hear your thoughts about the difference in public reception between 1945 and 2015. Have we actually regressed under the guise of progress? Let me know in the comments!
Oh.. and check out Yolande Betbeze. (Her photo is above.) She is another amazing gal to read more about!