A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

I have two sons. Both identify as male. Both are very in touch with their Y chromosomes. They enjoy theatre, but would rather do yard work than shop for clothes. You would not find a stitch of pink in their wardrobes–unless you count the socks they wore during football games in October for the sake of cancer awareness.

Aside from screening Little Miss Sunshine in Film Class, I know nothing about beauty pageants. My son’s high school hosted one yesterday, which I know because my wife expressed some interest in finding out who made the top ten. At first glance pageants seem antiquated if not silly. Why seek the validation of having other people say you’re pretty? Why dress up and promenade for judges who don’t know anything about you? Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we encouraged young women–all students, really–to set goals that involve more than an evening’s radiant beauty?

So, gentle readers, help me understand: why participate in a pageant–what am I missing?

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11 Responses to A Thing of Beauty is a Joy Forever

  1. Chloe Sharp says:

    Honestly, I have to agree with you Dr. Easterling. There is honestly nothing less appealing to me than seeing a group of young women all spray-tanned to the same shade of orange walking across a stage while people rank them for how pretty they are, or how nice they are. I honestly find pageants, especially at the school level, extremely degrading towards women. I suppose there are some elements of bigger pageants, such as at the statewide and national level, that aren’t objectifying women quite as obviously, but I feel that any competition where women are judged for how pretty they look in a dress is repulsive. And since you mentioned “Little Miss Sunshine” earlier, I would also like to point out that in that movie, when she presented her talent, they literally kicked her off the stage and called security. Pageants are just thinly veiled ways to teach girls their place. They must always be beautiful, they must always be nice and polite, and they should be talented, but not in a way that makes anyone uncomfortable. And maybe it’s because I’ve never personally participated in a pageant, but I honestly cannot see how the blatant objectification of young women and girls, starting from the time they are in elementary school, can still be acceptable in 2021.

  2. Nina Patel says:

    I agree with you, Dr. Easterling. There is nothing attractive about young girls with full-face makeup and dresses too tight on them—also, mothers take the competition way too seriously. Instead of pageants being a competition between young girls, it is a competition between mothers who are petty and rude. I think that pageants are useless because it just tells the woman that she is pretty. If you are not pretty, then you basically have no chance in winning. They have many standards, like being nice, talented, and pretty. I understand that higher level pageants are important because they go around changing the world, but I do not understand how pageants inspire because all they do is tell women how they should act. I have never participated in a pageant and I would not want to.

  3. Annemarie Coatney says:

    There seem to be two kinds of reasons to participate in a beauty pageant: the supposed benefits and the tangible benefits. The former category includes gaining confidence, creating societal connections, and developing communication skills. The latter category includes prize money and scholarships.

    While these are reasons that many people get involved with beauty pageants, they are not reasons sufficient to maintain this practice. It might be true that beauty pageants inspire confidence, but this confidence is gained by validation from strangers judging outward appearance. The idea that women are still being judged based on their appearance and made to believe that the majority of their worth is dependent on their outward appearance is, frankly, disappointing and rather disturbing. It also might be true that beauty pageants encourage societal connections and develop communication skills. However, there are countless other settings better suited to improving such things. The debate club, political organizations, musical groups, and literature-based societies would all allow contestants to build connections and develop communication skills without also sending the message that their physical appearance is inherently more valuable than personality and intelligence. The same can be said for the tangible benefits of beauty pageants; there are other ways to gain scholarship money without placing yourself in the position to be objectified. Some like to argue that beauty pageants also place value in intelligence and personality because they have an interview section. However, the interview section accounts for only 25% of the judge’s score; the contestants’ physical appearance is, literally, three times as valuable as intelligence and personality.

  4. Xiaohan Yu says:

    On one hand, pageants does invoke competitions among students, which is beneficial for raising people’s confidences and social interaction skills. Such activities are also a way of helping children discover what their real talents are, such as designing or modeling.

    On the other, Schools mainly serve to promote talents like public speaking, leadership, and any other skills basing on what they are teaching, of which fashion and design are not included. I also believe these students can’t manage balancing education and preparations for beauty contests at the same time. I see pageants as a community activity for more mature people, and not a school activity.

    I have never understood why people tolerate the idea of being judged by fellow humans about their physical appearance just for a crown either! But I would assume other comments got that area covered.

  5. Jillian Snodgrass says:

    I agree that beauty pageants are antiquated and silly. To me, they objectify girls, and I am grateful that my parents never allowed or encouraged me to participate, seeing as some girls’ parents force them to. They almost remind me of dog shows: parading around a room in an attempt to meet a standard. Pageants celebrate a very specific genre of beauty that the participants often change their usual appearance to conform to. Spray tans, teased and bleached hair, and heavy makeup mask the girl beneath. Beauty pageants seem to be about “standing out” while simultaneously conforming; it reminds me of names like Kayleigh vs. Kaylee vs. Kayley (and others) in that they are attempting to be unique while not actually changing much, while still staying within the bounds of what is expected in a small southern town. I don’t really appeal to the beauty pageant standard with my quite pale, freckly skin, small stature, and short, dark hair rather than the heavily tanned, tall, long-haired blondes that win ninety-nine percent of the time, and I’m okay with that. I never felt the need to compare myself with them, and I credit that to never having participated in pageants. While many of the girls I know who have participated have no self esteem issues, others lack confidence in themselves without the “mask” mentioned earlier. At best, pageants are an opportunity to dress up for an evening. At worst, they lead to an endless cycle of need for validation from others that will never really be satisfied.

  6. Khushi Patel says:

    I also believe beauty pageants should not be held. Many people have tried to argue their way around why it is a good thing, but I have never understood why it should be held. While some people believe that this is a good way for young girls to demonstrate their talents and presenting themselves in public skills such as modeling and speaking, I believe that this is not how it is affecting others, and at the very best it is objectifying girls. The main reason is that beauty pageants award the girl who is the prettiest which makes other girls want to be like them. Some will do anything to be exactly like those beauty pageant girls. This sets a standard of how one needs to be in order to be considered pretty and acceptable in today’s society. For example, some girls might think that in order to be pretty one has to be skinny, so some might starve themselves or make alterations to the way they look to “fit in.” This can put a lot of mental and physical stress and affect their health. I believe everyone should be confident in the way they look, but because of the society we live in today people are more worried about “fitting in.” I believe a person should be judged by their inner qualities like being respectful, helpful, and polite towards others. Everyone is different in their own way and there is a reason behind that, so I believe everyone should be encouraged to be happy with their own physical looks and try not to be like others.

  7. Madison Flowers says:

    Dr. Easterling- I honestly agree with you. I feel that beauty pageants are more harmful than helpful. For instance, “Toddlers and Tiaras” is a great example of why I am against beauty pageants. At a young age, mothers and fathers are teaching their children to strive towards someone else’s idea of “desirable” beauty standards. Full faces of makeup, false teeth, and over the top dresses are just a bit too much. Not to forget the creepy talent sections where half-dressed dads perform with their daughters. Not only do pageants cause self esteem issues at an early age, they can also deprive adolescents of time they simply could’ve spent enjoying their childhood and loving themselves for who they are. While I understand some people do genuinely enjoy pageants, they simply are not for me , and I wouldn’t ever let a child of mine compete in one either.

  8. Zuyi Li says:

    I don’t believe there is a good reason for anyone to be participating in a pageant. Every person is unique in their own way, there should be no comparison in the first place, let alone a competition. I find pageants very degrading towards their participants–most of whom are women. I am going to make a comparison that hopefully doesn’t offend anyone. To me, a pageant treats women like they are groceries: people are trying to pick the freshest one, in terms of the pageant, the one that looks the best. This should not happen. After picking the top one, does it mean the rest of the 3.9 billion women and girls on this planet are inferior? No one wants to be compared. There will always be someone that will be better than you at something, but that does not mean that they are better than you as a whole. People will much prefer those who have a good heart to someone who is trying to play dirty. Pageants are not a significant part of any culture nor a changing experience for most people, and at times, I believe it reflects the ignorance of our society.

  9. Cadi Springer says:

    I’m going to have to disagree (shocker) with you on this. While most pageants are generally seen as beauty contest, most truly are not. My mom is a local director for the Miss Mississippi, from the Miss America pageant system, and has two Miss titles and 3 Outstanding Teen titles. The requirements for these types of pageants are crazy. Contestants must show academic success, do hundreds of hours of community service, have a talent, have a stage presence, and be able to participate in an interview with judges. I see firsthand how hard those girls work to win their titles and how much time and money they put into pageants. These pageant systems also encourage women to be successful by giving scholarship money to winners. I can understand why so many feel as you do about them (and high school beauty pageants don’t help the stereotyping), but if you look at other pageant systems you will see that this perspective is incorrect.

  10. Gracie Rowland says:

    I think that pageants are okay, because it’s using the patriarchy for your own personal gain in a world where we are just as by scrutinized by men without a stage . I’m currently Distinguished Young Woman of Lowndes County, as the program offers lots of scholarships. Having DYW on my resume boosts my chances of getting into college, simply because I’m using my looks, grades, and interview skills to advance myself where I want to go. I have to suffer from living with an internalized male gaze and have a 1/5 chance being raped in the Us. Why would I not use my skill set and maybe learn how to pageant walk in six inch heels, when being a woman has cost me so much? I did DYW because it makes people respect me in a patriarchal world; people treat odd people like me with normalcy because I earned that respect in a world that values pretty and talented women. Plus, you have to show an extensive history in community service, have good grades, have a good ACT, and be in shape for the athletic portion to win. It’s about more than just looks. I’m training one of my emissary kids for DYW state because she can win up to 30,000 dollars and is a great candidate. Pageants do more good than bad.

  11. Chingun Tsogt-Erdene says:

    I do believe that beauty pageants are silly. It is a way that society had become more interested in looks instead of making the world a better place. I think everyone is beautiful in their own way and seeking validation through a competition is ridiculous. These competitions can make contestants insecure and can be damaging for the contestants that do not win. Instead of creating self-esteem issues I would rather have people loving themselves and being happy for who they truly are.

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