Seventeen-year-old Natalya is smart, funny and sharp. Her parents have big dreams for her and she hopes to make them proud. Like most girls her age, she spends many hours every day surfing the internet. But her choice playlist on YouTube is that of Victoria’s Secret angels and clips from various beauty pageants.
Unlike the boys in her class, she is not watching these videos to titillate her senses. She is excited by the thought of someday being there. She cannot wait for her own modeling career to take off. She dreams about it day and night. And she works hard for it. Quinoa, Cous-Cous, carrot sticks and celery, low-fat milk, lean meat cooked without any dressing; these are the things she survives on. And while it is a healthy lifestyle to boot, she is still too young to know why she wants to be a modeling star.
I am a feminist. I believe in women’s right to their bodies. Nudity, bikini, burqa, skirts or baggy jeans and oversized T-Shirts; I don’t care what she chooses to wear. However, it bothers me when she pricetags her body parts, not because she knows exactly what she’s doing, but when she is told that it is her ticket to the zenith of womanhood.
There are people who would compare modeling to prostitution. As someone who has reported on prostitution, I know that it is preposterous to compare prostitution and modeling. I do believe that prostitution should be legalized, but mostly because it allows women agency and if they wish to use their bodies to earn money, it is their call. Personally, I think it is another kind of objectification.
Modeling, on the other hand, is a different ball game altogether. Many models are aware of what they are doing and why their profession is nothing more than an over glorified advertising campaign. But young girls like Natalya idolize these models as the epitome of feminity and long to be like them.
Think about the swimsuit round of all major beauty pageants. Skimpily dressed young girls pose from various angles in front of the jury. The judges inspect the girls’ waists, faces, legs, arms, hips and breasts. They mark the girls on their hair, make-up, and plasticity. And then, the ones found ideal are selected for the next stage of the competition.
I want you to go back for a minute and think closely. A few hundred years ago, slaves were inspected like this. The size of their hips and breasts was considered as an evidence of their fertility. For men, the size of the penis and the expanse of the chest was also seen, in order to decide if he was a worker or a breeder. In brothels, the prettiest smile, unblemished skin, and desirability made the ultimate winsome prostitute.
And in a twisted way, our civilized world of 2016 carries this tradition forward, only by giving it a new name called beauty contest. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it ?
Before you attack me for being a frustrated feminazi, I want to clarify that I am all for women’s (and men’s) sexual liberation. However, the blatant exhibition of people like trade goods that takes place in even the most well-known pageants is sickening and horrifying. Add to that, the fact that most of these models are usually no older than 23. Some of them are below 18.
The glamor and glitz of the fashion world look great from the outside. But it steals away reality from the eyes of impressionable minds. While every pageant and modeling event is nothing more than a marketing gimmick, young girls are led to believe that there is more to being Miss Universe or a Victoria’s Secret angel.
And that is also what brings me to another major point. Donald Trump, the current president-elect of the United States of America owned the Miss Universe pageant from 1996 to 2015. On being asked what he would change to make it more successful, Trump said that he would “make the swimsuits shorter and the heels higher.” That is sexism at its highest when the standard of beauty is dictated by how desirable a woman is to men. And desirable is a respectable term for a profanity that I can’t use since I haven’t fallen so far yet. The second thing is that our girls see this as success, approval and a way to be someone in a world that is constantly telling them to be thinner, sexier, fairer and taller, without adding smarter to the list.
While you ponder upon my questions or engage with this article as you see fit, I see another young girl, this time a 14-year-old, telling her mother that she can’t have milk because she’s on a diet.