Supermodels’ contests, universal models of beauty and heteropatriarchal success, are a ghost that has devastated many of our teenage years. Although beauty contests are somehow far away from our context, this collective evaluation of women is a widespread practice. In college, lists of the best butts and tits spread among students. Those women that achieve a better score, embody an ambivalent ideal: desirable but potentially bitchy; those who occupy the last positions… Well, they better do their homework anyways. Over the years, marking the female body as (in)desirable continues harassing us, but not on a list hanging on a cork wall, but in “conversations between men”, amid two beers, or even on a WhatsApp group.
Consequently, feminists experience a kind of allergic rash whenever we see those beauty pageants in which millimetric-carved bodies march, all propped up, stitched and patched, almost dismembered. Beauty contests are the glorified and glamorous public representation of the violent, constant and insidious competition that our bodies endure. Therefore, performances such as the ones from Miss Peru entrants, who instead of detailing their measures they showed statistics on violence against children and young women in their country, were hailed by the entire world. As Barbijaputa denounces, defining this type of actions as feminists is problematic, since it makes invisible the different kinds of violence suffered by women and the connections between them.
However, the blogger goes on saying that “it’s impossible to enjoy something misogynist being a feminist”, which is also challenging. What do we qualify as a misogynist and what do we qualify as enjoyment? How many of us haven’t felt delighted with the smoothness of fresh depilated legs? Who hasn’t liked a romantic movie? Who has never felt appreciated with a smile that validates our attractiveness? We have been socialized as an object of desire for the gaze of others (of men). The enjoyment of their validation is just a consequence of this process. We must be critical with this: denouncing the patriarchal system, but not relentlessly judging individual actions. And even more with ethnocentric looks, as criticized by Alicia Murillo. Assuming that those girls are essentially dumb or completely alienated from reality, responds even more to that misogynist stereotype of the “pretty girl” than to the assumption of the subjective experiences of these people, as Mari Luz Esteban shows in her book.
The same complexity applies to analysing a beauty contest for women in wheelchairs named Miss Independence. The very name already brings together the best of patriarchal and ableist ideology. In case you have any doubt, the contest is organized in three phases: a meat exhibition (an entrants parade), then inspirational porn (their stories of improvement), and finally a romantic salvation (a ball where women dress as brides accompanied by a handsome walking man in a suit). The contest hypocritically affirms that it acts in favour of inclusion, while promoting a unique and exclusive model of beauty. However, we must be careful with our own training prejudices when analysing this event. As I pointed out in the case of the model with Down syndrome, Madeline Stuart, it’s important to value that these women position themselves in an unexpected place: objects of desire, role models. This is kind of disruptive in a context in which Monique Wittig could be paraphrased by stating that “the disabled are not women” (alluding to the fact that the woman category only makes sense within a heteronormative framework in which they don’t belong).
The main wealth of feminisms is their diversity, and knowing that “the personal is also political” or “my body is a battlefield” are based on intersectional life experiences. I cannot agree with Alicia Murillo when she says “us, the white women, can only observe and remain silent”. This “I only can/only should talk about what I have experienced” ends up leading to essentialist and immobile positions. What we should do is dialogue more, build more sisterhood networks based on respect. The Peruvian feminist Mary Lara Salvatierra condemns the performance of Miss Peru 2017 saying it was arranged by the organization of the contest, which only wanted to promote itself with a deceitful facelift that, as they professed, has become viral and economically valuable. The historic alliance between Patriarchy and Capitalism continues effective. There are common oppressions and shared struggles: the challenge is to learn how to articulate them.
Immaculate characters and their speeches are something only possible in a before-Internet era, when our heroines were not exposed to social networks scrutiny, which reveals the inherent contradiction of this incarnation of great morals. Even our beloved Frida Kahlo founds herself shattered on her intimate letters to Diego Rivera. We don’t have all the answers so let’s keep asking ourselves questions. Super (Feminist) contests are obsolete.
This post was originally written in Spanish. Click here for the original text.