Back in November 2017, Singapore hosted her first international plus size pageant, Miss Top of the World (TOTW) Plus Size. While it was glorified as a great way to challenge the Asian beauty ideal, it didn’t sit quite right with me. Perhaps it was ironic that a contest so discriminatory and shallow could bring about an impact for body positivity.
In Miss Universe, contestants catwalk down the stage to the beat of a looped fanfare jingle and a 2-line introduction of themselves. From boring resume credentials to having performed CPR on a choking puppy, does anyone actually remember what was said about these girls? I know I am not the only one too mesmerised by long legs, charismatic smiles, and their magical ability to twirl in killer heels – the real reason we watch Miss Universe.
The introductions could have been replaced with better music and it wouldn’t have made much of an impact, pageants will still be a superficial competition. Replacing the mass of long-legged beauties with chubbier ladies doesn’t make a difference either. Pageants are still an exclusive competition with no diversity – it’s strictly no chub rubs in Miss Universe and no visible hip bones in Miss TOTW Plus Size.
Besides, young girls who value being skinny won’t know how to appreciate a beauty pageant that celebrates a body type that’s different from their ideal and people who fat shame won’t voluntarily watch plus size women catwalk.
TOTW Plus Size celebrates the bigger women who have been discriminated all their lives and it enables them to envision a future that is both heavy and happy. However, portraying only a specific type of women is the fundamental flaw of pageantry.
If pageants are meant to prove that girls who don’t fit the cookie-cutter mould are beautiful, we should have one for the short girls, one for the handicapped girls, one for the acne-scarred girls, one for the hairy girls, one for the flat-chested girls, and so on.
Ultimately, plus size pageants prove that we have lost our way in the body positivity movement. An exclusive representation does not equate to an inclusive culture.
Our perception of beauty is nature and nurture. While we are attracted to a few common features that our brain registers as genetically sound, our preferences for looks are still uniquely shaped by our culture and upbringing.
Even my close girlfriends and I have differing tastes in men – according to them, none of the guys I’ve dated were handsome. No matter how tight we are, the four of us have always had a different idea on who we found visually appealing. Trying to convince each other otherwise would merely be trying to impose one’s opinion of beauty on everyone else.
Despite our varying beauty standards, my clique and our plus ones get along because what matters more is how kindly these boys treat my breasties and vice versa. This should be the standard we hold everyone accountable to: how well we treat each other and not just how good we look.
Short or tall, fat or skinny, these are polarising traits that one will always find more aesthetically pleasing than the other. What matters is that we give everyone a chance to show their personality and we treat them with the same respect, regardless of how they look. Hopefully, we can create a world that is fun even for the ugly people.
Yeah, I said ugly.
We say that “everyone is beautiful” in an attempt to comfort those with low self-esteem or those who feel ugly because society expects it of us. While we go around babbling those words, I can’t help but feel like we’ve butchered the original meaning by leaving out the other half of the quote.
The saying, “everyone is beautiful in their own way,” evolved from, “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.” Everyone has a different opinion on beauty. Essentially, that comforting line means that everyone perceives beauty differently. There is someone out there who will think you are beautiful. It may not be the person you like or the people around you but it could be someone else. It could even be you.
You are the ultimate beholder of what you see in the mirror, what you perceive yourself to be.
Telling every girl that they’re beautiful, like pageants do, breeds confidence that is rooted in exterior beauty. The truth is, not every girl will be valued for the way she looks. Some will be adored for their personality, wit, creativity, or smarts.
Convincing everyone that they look beautiful is idealistic but if we’re aiming for the moon, we might as well try to create a kind world instead of a ‘beautiful’ one – a kind world that values what lies beyond fleeting beauty.