The ugly side of beauty pageants

By B. Mohan

Mrs. Sri Lanka beauty contest ends with onstage drama; Mrs. Sri Lanka pageant controversy erupts after former title holder snatches winner’s crown; Mrs. Sri Lanka beauty pageant winner injured in on-stage bust-up as rival tries to steal crown; Mrs. Sri Lanka winner stripped of her new crown by previous year’s winner.

These were some of the headlines carried by international news outlets over the past couple of weeks. Once again, Sri Lanka is #trending for all the wrong reasons.

Nevertheless, as with most incidents, the Mrs Sri Lanka World fiasco could be an opportunity; a starting point to begin the conversation on this aspect of the beauty industry that has remained unchanged for decades.

To that end, Colombo Gazette spoke to a some influential women in and out of the industry to gain their perspective on beauty pageants.

Activist Vraie Cally Balthazaar

Pageants have long been very problematic and I think there is also a lot of politics within these franchises. There are certain instances where franchise owners choose to play God.

The pageant industry in general is not what most people may think it is from the outside – it is a very ugly and problematic industry; it is very competitive.

These pageants – apart from some that have been revising their rules and regulations – are quite archaic. The whole premise of a pageant is quite archaic. I know that we in Sri Lanka look at it differently. Because Sri Lanka has a history of those who participate in pageants using their platforms to do other things, I think we may look at it a little more kindly.

However, I think we really need to revisit it. I don’t really think we can, but this is a good opportunity for us to understand pageant politics.

Additionally, a lot of what we have been discussing, in terms of the recent incident, has been about the two women (former Mrs. World Sri Lanka Caroline Jurie and Mrs. World Sri Lanka 2020 Pushpika De Silva), but I think we also need to understand that the pageant organisers are equally accountable, and there hasn’t really been a conversation on that matter.

Miss Sri Lanka for Miss World 1975 and cinema, TV, and theatre artist Angela Seneviratne

I come from another era – literally. It was a time when the most important criteria in this industry were respect, decency, discipline, and integrity. The beauty industry, at that time, was all things beautiful. There was no pressure on us contestants during the contest, and no acts of jealousy or envy. All I wanted to do when it was over (upon winning Miss Sri Lanka for Miss World 1975) was to disappear into the darkness and let it all sink in that I was the new Miss Sri Lanka!

The industry has indeed changed into something massive, competitive, and almost ugly in the present day. I have made it my mission for over a decade now to fight for what is correct and fair by contestants, all of whom spend their money, time, energy, and effort to work towards a title they all have equal right to vie for.

Franchises for world contests are all a matter of money. The governing bodies are almost always happy if their financial commitment is met. Sadly, the local national directors are too many to even number and the small-time ones are into questionable dealings such as selling titles and crowns to gullible girls. One must remember that there are only a few recognised  major international contests; namely, Miss Earth, Miss International, Miss Universe, and Miss World. That being said, however, there are a few credible national directors who adhere to the proper requisites and transparency where the contests are concerned.

Shhh the talkshow host Shanuki de Alwis

They can package it and fluff it up as much as they want by saying “beauty with purpose” and “ambassadors of causes”, but essentially, at the end of the day, pageants are flawed. It’s a flawed concept of objectification and superficiality, as far as I am concerned. It’s just sad entertainment I feel.

In 2021, you really need to change how you celebrate women and what you award or recognise as a woman above others or a woman of worth, and I don’t think pageants are doing that in any way at the moment.

This is not just in Sri Lanka; it is the world over, in that the format hasn’t changed at all.

Additionally, just think about the title “beauty queen” and how its interpreted and showcased. I think, by now, they should be a little more woke than that.

Lastly, I don’t think it’s doing feminism any good nor is it doing gender empowerment any good. I just think it’s a big tamasha.

Miss Sri Lanka Universe 2008 and etiquette trainer Faith Landers

During the time I participated in the Miss World Universe pageant, which was about a decade ago, things were different to how they are now. There were a maximum of two pageants per year with two winners through the international franchises. The national directors of the franchises at the time, who were very reputable members of society, had one purpose only – to send someone to represent the country in international pageants.

The participants were trained by the best in the profession and there was a lot of discipline; we had to go through a long procedure of etiquette training, we were trained on how to speak, and how to conduct ourselves with dignity. Overall, it was a very positive experience, but I think it’s different now.

Currently, the Miss World and Miss Universe franchises, for which I train the participants, still provide rigorous training and they take it very seriously. As for some of the other pageants, however, the people involved seem to be manipulating and engaging in pageant politics. Additionally, the participants are in a rat race, and are being trained to win the crown based on beauty only, and they don’t see a responsibility in their role or value it that much.

However, just because one person makes a mistake, it doesn’t mean it applies to the industry. There are two sides to the coin.

Founder and startup enthusiast Yusra Aziz Eliyas

I think that beauty pageants are excellent platforms for endorsing the slogan “beauty with a purpose” – but only if organised and used correctly. Beautiful, smart ladies always grab attention, and these platforms not only pave a path for assisting their causes but for letting the world know about their country.

As with any field, those in charge should ensure it is conducted in a fair manner to all participants, as they work extra hard to be there. I also feel pageants need to start being diverse and inclusive of all statuses of women as society evolves and the roles of women multiply.

1 COMMENT

  1. Are beauty contests a bane or a boon??? what purpose do they serve our community at large?? with an exception of the first citizen of Colombo the rest are lost in oblivion?

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