Tag Archives: Miss USA

Beauty Contests, Civil Rights, Transwomen, and Surgeries: All In One Story

Laurie and Debbie say:

Whatever you may think of beauty contests, they matter deeply to the people involved in them. They are also a useful way to look at what’s going on in the world, especially the world of conventionally beautiful young women and those who fetishize them.

Miss Universe Canada is a separate beauty contest from Miss Universe USA. This year, Jenna Talackova competed in the Miss Universe Canada contest, the first identified transwoman to do so. She finished in the top 12, and tied for Miss Congeniality (a role voted on by the contestants, not the judges).

Talackova threatened to go to court for the right to compete, but the Miss Universe organization, which is owned by Donald Trump, agreed to let her compete before the case went to court. She might not have won her case in the U.S., but she probably would have won in Canada, where the LGBT rights laws are the most progressive in the Americas.

Take a moment to celebrate Talackova’s multiple victories: she got into the pageant (which was her dream), she did well, the other contestants liked her, and she changed a part of the world–a part that is deeply important to her.

South of the Canadian border, Olivia Culpo (Miss Rhode Island) won the Miss USA pageant. In the interview before the winner was announced, she drew a Twitter question if she thought transgender women should be allowed to compete in these contests. Here’s her answer:

I do think that that would be fair. I can understand that people would be a little apprehensive to take that road because there is a tradition of natural-born women, but today where there are so many surgeries, and so many people out there who have a need to change for a happier life—I do accept that because I believe it’s a free country.

As Melissa McEwen at Shakesville points out, this is an amazing answer. In two sentences, Culpo  manages to

  • acknowledge the barrier people have to cross to accept trans candidates,
  • remind her listeners that many, if not most, of the contestants on stage have had body-mod surgeries
  • draw the connection between “beauty” surgery and gender-change surgery
  • acknowledge that transwomen are changing “for a happier life,” and
  • throw in the “free country” language which is so rarely invoked for trans rights.

The hosts of the show, Andy Cohen and Giuliana Rancic, felt that Culpo “nailed” the answer, which says that she has significant support for her position.

The host of surgeries which are common currency for 21st century beauty contestants include everything from breast augmentations to nose jobs.  Surgeries like these can only be considered “change for a happier life” because of the intense and unrelenting pressure on women to modify ourselves for the beauty market. And, unlike gender change, cosmetic surgery often doesn’t actually bring happiness to the people who undergo it. In the context of Miss Universe, however, we can hardly expect contestants to be the ones to fight against arbitrary beauty standards.

So, if a large percentage of the contestants have surgery to be able to be in the running, what is the difference between a contestant who has had a vaginoplasty and one who has had a breast augmentation? Between a contestant with a straightened nose and one with a reduced Adam’s apple?

Of course, there has been backlash. A contestant resigned from the Miss USA pageant after she lost, claiming both disgust at the thought of transwomen competing and fraud in the results. There will always be backlash, and it will always be nasty.

Jenna Talackova opened a door; Olivia Culpo explained, in simple accessible terms, why that door should be open. We don’t have to be big supporters of beauty contests to appreciate what they’ve done.

Muslim Women: Beauty Contest Winners and Threatened Rights

Debbie says:

This weekend, Rima Fakih was crowned Miss USA.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I don’t generally give a frig who wins beauty contests. If it was completely up to me, I’d be happy to see them disappear. Nonetheless, Fakih is the first Arab-American, and first Islamic woman, to win Miss USA, and that’s of interest.

At the same time that Fakih is gaining both positive and negative attention in the U.S., devout Muslim women in Quebec and France are facing serious discrimination.

The proposed [Quebec] law — Bill 94 — was tabled earlier this year following a controversy over a Montreal woman who refused to uncover her face while attending publicly funded French-language classes for new immigrants.

The bill does not specifically mention any particular religion but says anyone seeking a public service related to security, communication or identification must show their face.

If enacted as it is, said [Pierre Chagnon, head of Quebec’s Bar Association], the law could mean that a Muslim woman visiting Quebec who wears a niqab could be denied information at a tourism office unless she agreed to uncover her face.

I wish I could remember where I saw the link to this story, because whoever posted it said it more clearly than I can: this is discriminating against women for what they wear. I know that France (and by extension Quebec) has a long and complex history of secularization that is difficult for Americans (who have never really separated church and state) to understand fully. And I can entertain arguments that some serious matters of security and/or identification would require something more than being able to see a woman’s eyes.

But language classes? Tourist information? In France, the proposed law will ban the niqab from streets, public transportation, and public places. (In other words, the French law in particular will do what westerners are always crying that Islamic men do: keep women at home and imprisoned.) The Quebecois and French people pushing for these laws aren’t concerned with safety or identification: they’re trying to cut a whole group of women out of the citizenry for what they believe and how they dress. They’re haters, expressing themselves in a French style.

In the U.S., the hatred takes a different form. One standard criticism of Fakih’s victory is that somehow Arab and/or Muslim women have an advantage (yes, really, that’s what they’re saying) in beauty contests. Fortunately, we have the incisive Ta-Nehisi Coates responding:

Whenever a non-white person succeeds at something that is regarded as the province of whites, there’s some sense that the fix is in.

The sense that whites are being cheated in favor of non-whites is as old as slavery itself. White Confederates framed the War as an attempt to cheat whites out of their God-given right to subjugate black people. When colored troops hit the field fighting for the Union, and managed to win a few battles, white Confederates reacted with disbelief, the great diarist Kate Stone said.

The point is that the narrative of white supremacy holds victimhood sacred. It paints whites as the truly put-upon class and asserts that non-white success–black, brown, red, yellow and now “Muslim” — is mostly achieved through vile and despicable means. When reality challenges that view, white supremacy simply moves the goal-post. So in the 19th and early 20th century, blacks were thought of as physically inferior to whites. When blacks succeeded in athletics the logic became that blacks’ “animistic” nature gave them an advantage.

It’s come to beauty pageants, folks. These fools are crying about beauty pageants.

By the way, the assertion in Pipes’ article that Muslim women are winning beauty pageants with “surprising frequency”? Not borne out by Google. At all. All I can find is Fakih and lots of articles about beauty pageants in Arabic countries where one can hardly be surprised if Arabic and/or Muslim women win.

What connects these two stories? They’re both about Islamic women, and they’re both about hatred/bias/discrimination. But together they also illustrate an obvious but almost-never-stated fact about Islamic women:

Islamic women are as different from each other, and exhibit as wide a range of behaviors, interests, preferences, skills, and choices as any other group.

Yes, really.