OPINION|Draping the female form in new chains

Thulisa Keyi during the swimsuit portion of Miss SA 2018 beauty pageant grand finale at the Time Square Sun Arena.
Thulisa Keyi during the swimsuit portion of Miss SA 2018 beauty pageant grand finale at the Time Square Sun Arena.
Image: Getty Images

Imagine a beauty pageant that does not want to judge on looks? Well, look no further than the Miss America pageant which has made the (yawn) groundbreaking decision to scrap the swimsuit section of the event. Gretchen Carlson, the chairwoman of the Miss America board of directors, made the announcement this week. She said: “We are no longer a pageant… we are a competition.” 

Well, who knew that a pageant was not in fact a competition? But wait, there’s more. The forward thinking institution, which is for the first time being led by women, announced how the evening gown competition will also be shelved. Carlson said contestants will now be able to wear “whatever they choose”. Imagine a world where women finally have choices even in terms of their sartorial desires.

In lieu of the evening gowns, contestants (is that what they will still be called?) will have the opportunity to “wear attire that makes them feel confident”, because, as Carlson declared: “Who doesn’t want to be empowered … pay for college and be able to show the world who you are as a person from the inside of your soul.” Now allow me to take my earrings off for a moment as I come for these fake-deep organisers who have inadvertently introduced another way to police women’s bodies. Why does it matter if women who have undoubtedly worked hard for their physiques proudly parade their bikini-clad bodies as part of what is already, in essence, a vanity parade?

By removing this portion of the competition we are yet again disseminating the message that women’s bodies are something to be regulated, that pride and exposure of one’s body is to be reserved for those with lesser ambitions. While the thinking for the removal of the swimwear competition probably comes from a good place, it is quite frankly a dated ideology that is a few decades too late. Sigh. Ironically, getting women to cover up as a form of protest unwittingly stems (from) the idea that how one is robed somehow influences the way in which men should engage our bodies. Who knew that centuries of the subjugation of women could be eradicated one burnt bikini at a time?

X