Miss Universe: Where Are the Clever Women?


EspañolBy Daniela Vargas

The vote for women, women’s participation in politics, the struggle for gender equality, pay inequality between men and women, gender-related violence… let’s forget all this for a night. A night in which a group of women from all corners of the earth are valued not by what they think, by their work, their achievements in science, the arts, sports, or business, but for their physical beauty. I’m talking, of course, about the Miss Universe contest.

La joven Paulina Vega, representante de Colombia, alcanzó el galardón como la más bella del Universo el pasado 25 de enero (Wikimedia)
Paulina Vega, representing Colombia, wins the Miss Universe crown on January 25. (Wikimedia)

While we all agree that there’s an inherent subjectivity in the concept of beauty, it would seem that it’s possible — against all logic — to decide that one of these women is the most beautiful in the universe.

The world is paralyzed by the struggle for this title, or at least on this side of it, in Latin America. We laugh, cry, and sing for the women. But not for anything to do with their intellect — for evidence, we need only look at the question-and-answer segment of the competition.

For the organizers, beauty can never be understood as coming in multiple kinds, even beyond the aesthetic. They deal only in the superficial (and occasionally artificial) kind.

If we took the Miss Universe competition as a symptom of our society, how would it reflect on us? Would we like the image reflected back at us? Is it possible to live in a modern society, to feel ourselves to be civilized, and at the same time take a group of women, strip them of the multiple dimensions that make them human, and reduce them to be judged for their success or failure in jumping through a series of artificial standards on physical appearance?

Countries become factories of beauty queens, fortunes are won and lost on the back of these competitions, and age categories are extended so that no woman or child are free from the madness. Girls as young as five, or even less, are exhibited by their parents in swimsuits, covered in artificial bronzer, make-up, and hair extensions, to compete for the crown.

Marie Curie, Frida Kahlo, Margaret Thatcher, or Nadia Comăneci weren’t put together for the benefit of an audience. Their infinite talent can’t be replicated through surgery or artificial additions. However, valuing talent in science, art, leadership, and sport among women is possible, and an attainable goal that we should aspire to.

More competitions based on recognizing female contributions in these fields would be a dignified reflection of a modern, civilized society. They’d also be a step towards ensuring that the multiple struggles and historic achievements of women aren’t overlooked in favor of applauding an unreachable beauty standard.

Daniela Vargas is a lawyer based in San José, Costa Rica. Follow her on Twitter: @danivg2188.

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