Blowing Water

Why stop at swimsuit contests? Let’s scrap beauty pageants altogether

Women no longer need such platforms for validation or to achieve their goals, Luisa Tam argues

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 June, 2018, 3:48pm
UPDATED : Monday, 11 June, 2018, 10:13pm

When was the last time you watched a beauty pageant or even thought about it? For me, it was 25 years ago, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. It was a day after I gave birth to my daughter, and I was recuperating in a hospital bed, so that meant I was restricted to what was on the television above my bed: the annual Miss Hong Kong pageant.

The contest, hosted by TVB, was once viewed as the biggest and most spectacular local annual event, not only as an entertainment entity but also as a citywide community event.

In Hong Kong, watching the pageant every summer was like taking part in a traditional ritual. The contestants felt like they were being honoured as an integral part of the city, while spectators were privileged enough to witness the “birth” of the prettiest Hong Kong woman, whom the city could be proud of to represent it on the world stage.

The pageant, since it was established in 1973, has produced many outstanding title-holders who have gone on to develop showbiz careers, as it’s quite typical for winners and top contestants to be awarded television contracts with TVB. Some became movie stars or glamorous socialites, or ended up marrying into reputable local families.

Back in the old days, there weren’t many politically charged events happening to get the blood of Hongkongers boiling, so the only occasion that was guaranteed to raise the city’s temperatures was this annual pageant.

Four decades on, the Miss Hong Kong pageant seems to have lost its powerful grip on the local population. Sad but true, most people don’t even have the slightest interest in tuning in to the show or finding out the names of the latest winners.

The culture of indifference towards beauty pageants is spreading quickly across the globe, although I don’t doubt that some people still remain loyal. The devoted minority who follow these programmes believe, to a certain extent, that these pageants still provide platforms and open countless doors for women who want to achieve their life goals.

The Miss Hong Kong runner-up who was the big winner

Once upon a time, beauty pageants were highly regarded and defied the established stereotypes that these competitions drew in only “bimbos” as candidates. These contests provide scholarships, and they encourage women to exude grace, intelligence, virtue, and of course, beauty. The winners are expected to serve as role models to inspire young women.

Earlier this month, the Miss America contest announced it would be scrapping its infamous swimsuit competition. The decision sent the message that women would no longer be judged on their physical appearance.

Supporters applauded the move, saying it would bring a sea of change and open the stage for women of all shapes and sizes to participate.

But how excited about this should we be?

Critics of beauty pageants have for half a century been criticising not only the swimsuit competition but also the overarching concept of judging women based on physical beauty.

Open-minded communities and their residents have long been advocating body positivity and self-worth, which means the train of popular opinion has long departed from the beauty pageant station. It begs the question of whether scrapping the swimsuit segment has come too little and much too late to help revitalise the fading glory of such contests.

Miss America drops swimsuit competition

On the flip side, it seems a little too coincidental that the biggest pageant organisers in the world have now decided to offer this “olive branch” at a time when beauty pageants have more or less become irrelevant, with rapidly falling viewership.

Women no longer need such platforms to validate their existence, nor do they need to be painfully thin or look physically attractive in heels, swimsuits, or evening gowns to seek approval. Beauty pageants may have had a place in the world decades ago, but the women of today have found new and far more healthy ways to seek validation.

The shared wisdom is that all women should be valued and appreciated not only for their looks, but rather their talents, personalities, achievements and life goals. And if we can’t find real beauty in a beauty pageant, then what is the point of even keeping them? We should, nay must, push these institutions to not only scrap the swimsuit segment but this entirely outdated type of competition, once and for all.

Luisa Tam is a senior editor at the Post