The business of being beautiful
by SHASHANK SHRESTHA
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and in today's 24-hour media age, there are plenty of beholders. Perhaps this is why beauty pageants are so enormously popular around the world. In Nepal such events are multiplying, and today there are new pageants every year, from contests for the under-fives to ethnic pride galas. It's not a simple discussion about 'exploiting women' or 'why shouldn't a girl make a living from her looks'. In countries like Venezuela and India, winning a major pageant is the first step towards building a wide variety of careers for many women. Within Nepal, former beauty queens have gone on to anchor television shows (Priyanka Karki), become pilots (Niru Shrestha), and go to Ivy League universities (Nira Gautam).
During an enjoyable discussion with WAVE readers, we found two main things: that beauty contests and their winners are taken very seriously by the general populace, and that pageant winners should do more for society.
Swekshya Adhikari (first runner-up, Miss Teen Nepal 2006),
WAVE: So what is a beauty contest?
Swekshya: It's mainly a search for talent, a platform for contestants to develop their personality and confidence, to get noticed by the public.
Then why not call it a talent show? They're doing that in many countries to make the contests seem less demeaning to women.
Alina: The main focus is on the beauty of the contestants, that's not attacking women in any way.
Swekshya: I don't think the term is meant to offend, but the contests do emphasise other factors too. It's a search for the person who best represents the target group of the contest.
Are such contests a good idea? And do we have too much of a good thing? There are positives and negatives, but such contests allow young people to learn many things and get a head start in their careers.
Bijay: But they've become really commercial.
Dinesh: Yes, it often seems like the sponsors are just looking for a new face for their new promotion campaign.
Samyam: There are too many pageants to make any dent in society or arouse one's interest. All the Miss This and Miss That is diminishing their allure.
Roshan: Isn't focusing only on female beauty pageants marginalising the male population?
Swekchya: I don't think that's fair. The more contests there are, the more people get a chance to compete. And contests can help put a face to different regions and indigenous groups. Miss Nepal is a representative of the entire nation, while Miss Teen Nepal stands for teenage girls. Japan even has a contest called Miss Sumo.
Kripa: But surely we shouldn't organise a contest just for the sake of representation. There are so many castes and ethnicities in Nepal!
Do you feel such contests promote a preconceived notion of beauty?
Alina: To an extent. I think the media has a role in creating that too.
Amrita: If you see just thin people in the limelight, definitely fame and beauty will be equated with being thin.
Bijay: That's natural, guys want to be like Salman Khan, while girls, well, they have their own idols.
What do you think of the judges and judging procedures?
Kripa: I think people in related fields should be judging.
Amrita: I feel the judges aren't qualified enough.
Dinesh: Exactly, most are representatives of the sponsors.
Samyam: Or movie actors.
Swekchya: There is a pre-judging process before the main event and all the contestants are trained in various areas, such as how best to present oneself on stage and social issues. The judges for the main event are adequate, because we've all gone through the process.
Alina: I'd like to see audience interaction, perhaps a voting system.
Bijay: I don't think the process is transparent. Perhaps a little more media coverage would help. And the questions the contestants are asked sound like an eighth grade social studies book.
What should we expect from contest winners?
Kripa: Well, winning a pageant sets you apart from the rest, doesn't it? So you can't just run after TV commercials and advertisements. Winners should be involved in social service for some time. Unless they make a social difference, you can't take them seriously.
Samyam: Most winners get involved in media, and nothing socially-oriented.
Swekchya: That's unfair, there's no rule that a contest winner must be involved in the social service sector.
Bijay: But shouldn't a Miss Nepal or Miss Teen be a role model to others? The media should follow up on the winners or we'll never know what they do.
Swekchya: Sure, but social service isn't the only way to do that; different people make different choices. Such contests are mainly a way to get noticed and help contestants develop their personality, social skills, and confidence. People should either clarify what they expect a contest winner to achieve or lower their expectations.
Amrita: I expect a Miss Nepal to go on to win an international title.