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The recent scrapping of the ‘swimsuit round’ from Miss America pageant makes us wonder if these beauty contests really elevate women or merely establish false standards of beauty. Where does India stand?
‘Miss America’ which is one of the oldest beauty pageants has now scraped off the bikini round in order to stop judging women based on their appearance. The organizers wish to turn it into a competition instead of a pageant.
Miss America has been one of the most influential beauty pageants in the world. Other international Beauty pageants such as Miss Universe, Miss World came up with similar judging criteria after Miss America that considered thin, fair and tall women as the ideal benchmark of beauty. These pageants have set a standard for beauty, completely disregarding those cultures where fat women are considered beautiful. These ideas have permeated to different nations who previously had different standards of beauty, including India.
The removal of the bikini round is a conscious decision taken by the new women leaders of Miss America, in light of the #metoo campaign. While we wait to witness the changes in the Miss America contest and see on what basis contestants will be judged, let’s take a look at what is happening in India.
I bet all girls have at some time or the other dreaded family functions for the fear of being body shamed. The first comment of any aunty, who is seeing you after a long time will be “You have gained weight” or “You have lost weight”. Am I right? They seem to have a problem with the way you look irrespective of whether you are fat or thin.
We are a country that is obsessed with weight and body image so much so that the weight loss industry in India is valued at 6,000 to 7,000 crore rupees.
Was it always like this? Nope.
If you look at Indian Cinema before the 1990’s you will find actresses who do not fit into the zero size bracket that is prevalent today. The idea of thinness and fairness essentially came into India Post-liberalization, that is, after 1991 when international cosmetic, clothing and fashion companies entered India and used International models in their advertisements. In Susan Dewey’s book ‘Making Miss India Miss World’ , there is a segment on behind the scenes contestant training program in 1993, where girls were asked to lose weight, to bleach their skins to look fair. It further promoted the western standards of beauty. This initiative turned out to be very successful as two Indian women won international beauty pageants in 1994. (Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai)
From then on India has never looked back; we have tried to achieve these so-called international standards of beauty and in turn have increased instances of eating disorders, body shaming and mental illnesses induced due to issues relating to weight.
The media definitely promotes such ideas of beauty and the women in the media are also the ones who are body shamed the most. This has become a vicious cycle. There is a need for women in the India media to not conform to these absurd standards of beauty and speak up against it.
I guess, one of the reasons we so readily accepted these beauty standards was because we were already predisposed to racism that leads us to become obsessed with the idea of fairness and also placing the western standards and practices on a higher pedestal.
This old pears ad might seem different from the contemporary ones, but the idea of fairness is still prevalent today.
The fairness products ads have merely changed the things that are associated with fairness from British skin tone to beauty, sometimes intelligence etc. I still can’t digest how blatantly these showcase that fairness leads to job opportunities, martial invitations, advances from the opposite sex etc, or how media trivializes a girlfriend or a wife obsessing over whether she looks fat. This is only the tip of the iceberg. Lately, there have been changes in the portrayal of skin tones and body weight but there is still a long way to go.
Most clothing brands make clothes for limited sizes. Some do not go beyond XL or even L sizes and let me tell you from personal experience that smaller sizes are also a rarity. We have internalized a particular body image to be the perfect image to such an extent that we tend to reinforce such ideas. This also leads to self-hate if you’re even slightly fat or thin that will cause eating disorders and mental health issues like I mentioned earlier.
India has incorporated these standards of beauty very naturally and it’s about time to critically analyze them. We often fail to see how much effort and pain it takes to look a certain way. Even the top Miss India candidates undergo vigorous training and surgeries to look the way they do. This is definitely not good for the physical or the mental health of the country and it’s about time we stop.
It is important to know that and accept the fact that genetics plays a role in the way we look and we cannot alter every bit of it. Our aim should be towards becoming healthy and fit instead of being a certain number on the weighing scale and having a certain kind of complexion. It’s okay to be what society calls fat or thin, as long as you are healthy and remember not to let yourself down, based on the opinions of others.
If you still can’t get the idea of a beauty pageant out of your head watch the documentary ‘The World Before Her’ that beautifully portrays two extreme impractical, patriarchal ideologies about women.
Image Source: Youtube
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