Physical attractiveness is an individual thing, and most people are attractive to someone somewhere. The finalists in a beauty competition, however, all conform to a certain idea of physical beauty. Herein lies the rub: no matter how much other material is stuffed into a beauty competition, as long as physical attractiveness is part of the judges’ decision, the ethics of these contests will be in question.
The idea of a beauty contest is no longer solely about beauty. Contest organisers have striven for decades to ensure that contestants have an opportunity to show their skills and intellect before they are pronounced a beauty queen. Nevertheless, beauty competition winners are never noted to be unattractive.
The beauty contest has been with us for quite some time. The Miss World contest, which is perhaps the biggest competition, has run annually since 1951. Its popularity has slowly declined since the late 1960s, but billions of people still watch the competition worldwide.
There is no doubt that beauty contests are still relatively popular. The question is, are they damaging, degrading spectacles or a bit of simple fun?
There are obvious positive aspects to beauty competitions. Contestants are often able to raise money for their favourite charity or raise awareness for a favourite cause. Winners and other contestants may use the competition as the starting-point for a career, as Michelle Pfeiffer and Halle Berry did.
Despite these positives, demonstrations against beauty contests take place throughout the world, in some instances resulting in violence. The objections behind these protests can be religious and cultural, but the main protest worldwide about beauty competitions is because of the possible harm they pose to female identity.
Regardless of the moral and ethical implications of judging women by their looks, beauty contests are harmful. There is no doubt that in supporting the idea of the necessity of feminine beauty, beauty contests contribute to the body image issues suffered by millions of women worldwide. The focus of culture of the necessity of good looks has lead to eating disorders, self-esteem issues and other psychological consequences.
There is not enough space in a short article to really discuss the complex way the media and culture works on the psyche when it comes to body image. Among other things, the pressure to be ‘beautiful’ leads to unhealthy eating, depression and other mental illnesses, unnecessary surgery and drug-taking in an effort to lose weight. The desire to gain approval by being attractive can lead to untold misery.
We award prizes based on single attributes in other areas, such as sport. The difference between these and beauty contests is that other things are rewarded based on skill. Beauty is something that is almost entirely granted to us at birth. While beauty contest contestants may strive to augment their natural charms, in the main the contests are decided on appearance. Unlike models, no paid service is being provided. Beauty contestants perform for the acclaim they receive, and a title. In promoting beauty as the ideal, unfortunately they contribute to the images that pervade culture .