STYLE

As Miss World Turns 60, Is It Time To Retire?

07/11/2011 13:02 | Updated 22 May 2015

And the winner is... VENEZUELA! The crowd went crazy, the beautiful girl wept and waved, and a glittering crown was placed atop her trembling brow.

miss-world-2011-debateVenezuela's Ivian Sarcos scoops the top prize at Miss World 2011. Photo: PA

The annual contest is watched by an estimated (by the organisers) two billion people in more than 150 countries around the globe, has raised £250m for disadvantaged children and has acted as a springboard to success for countless young women.

But Miss World, which returned to its birthplace London yesterday, on its 60th anniversary, is still derided by many as being at best trashy and pointless and at worst demeaning and harmful to women. So, having reached retirement age, is it time Miss World bowed out?

For all the tweaks that have been made over the years, in answer to the calls of feminist protestors (for example, removing the announcement of the ladies' vital statistics, the additional judgement of personality and intelligence and the renaming of the swimwear round to 'Beach Beauty') Miss World is, essentially, still a beauty pageant. The contestants can talk as much as they like about their achievements, ambitions and desires to improve the world but the fact is, if they didn't look as lovely as they do, they would not be there on that stage.

As such, the 200 or so protestors who gathered outside the event at Earl's Court last night believe the pageant trivialises women in a way that encourages violence against them. One placard read: 'Miss World is the jewel in the crown of rape culture'.

Strong words but are they justified? Does Miss World objectify women to the point of harm, or merely celebrate femininity, beauty and youth? If it is the latter, is that as bad as the members of London Feminist Network, Object and UK Feminista would have us believe?

A story in the Independent included an interesting quote from from Jo Robinson – one of the women who protested against Miss World 41 years ago, and who turned out to protest again. She was commenting on the immense pressure society puts on women to look a certain way, and then added, "I wear make-up, I want to look nice, but to go to such an extent as to have operations performed on yourself?"

Of course, her point is that pageants like Miss World reinforce the image of the 'perfect' woman, add even more weight to the importance of the physical. But going on what she said, is it okay for women to take themselves a little bit closer that that ideal, but not too much? Who can tell me where that line is? Is it alright to wear a bit of lippy but not to wear a push up bra? Does our desire to exit the house in the morning looking more attractive than we did when we woke up let the side down?

I don't mean to be flippant and I know there are serious issues involved, but Miss World is merely a cog in a machine powered by the perceptions of men and women alike (even Jo Robinson to a small degree). If the key to equality is in eradicating the desire of women to be attractive, then equality is unachievable.

I think I was sitting on the fence when I watched the show last night. Yes it felt a bit tacky, but I disagree with the idea that it's soft pornography. Yes the girls were dressed up and made up to the nines, but they weren't bumping and grinding like Rihanna does on prime time TV. Yes, there were some clichés about changing the world – but they felt like words delivered in the flush of optimistic youth, and not by bimbos and airheads but by intelligent young women.

Every one of those 113 contestants occupies a whole world that values and rewards beauty – and one that allows them freedom of choice. For everything feminism has done for women, some will continue to make choices feminism doesn't like. Miss World won't be heading into retirement any time soon.

But in answer to the Miss England 2008 winner Laura Coleman, who said that pageants "empower" women, I would say they empower only the women who enter them, they offer little benefit to the rest of us.

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