Can beauty queens affect change?

Yolande Betbeze

The 1951 winner, busy at work

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.

1921 winner of Miss America

Margaret Gorman

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!

Replies for “Can beauty queens affect change?

  • Ellen Dial

    Well, yes and no. In the past, it was one of the few ways a woman could get national/international attention for her cause or goal – and the backing [social and financial] to work towards her cause or goal. As in help Miss America help the poor, etc. Miss Ohio stumps for literacy. Not unlike movie stars and War Bonds. There were few outlets and even fewer ways of accepting women in a leadership role – being a beauty queen was an acceptable and feminine role. Being a lady scientist in a baggy lab coat and horn-rim glasses was not as accepted, she wasn’t viewed to be as feminine or ladylike – she surely wasn’t beautiful, as is the expectation. She may discover a much needed, new antibiotic in her lab, but no one knew it and her male colleagues usually took the credit – or were given the credit, to be fair. There were, of course exceptions.

    Have we regressed? Not sure. I find it interesting that in this age of rebounding feminism and “girl power”, that a young woman would view this as the most direct route to fame or fortune or a good platform for initiating change – given she’s been on stage wearing a bathing suit and high heels, evening gown and giving some sort of “talent” performance. I haven’t watched a pageant in ages, but I’m sure they’ve attempted to downplay the beauty and focus more on brains and talent. There are so many other outlets now – it all seems a bit quaint.

    They were women of their times – some really DID push for and facilitate change and we love them for it. Now? Well, glad to see they are moving outside the box and realizing there are many facets to beauty, let’s hope they stick with it and help others see the same!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments will be subject to approval by a moderator. Comments may fail to be approved or may be edited if the moderator deems that they:

  • contain unsolicited advertisements ("spam")
  • are unrelated to the subject matter of the post or of subsequent approved comments
  • contain personal attacks or abusive/gratuitously offensive language