Suzi Parker, a columnist for the Washington Post recently asked: “why would any woman – transgender or otherwise – want a pageant queen life?” Well, despite all the hard work and dedication it takes to compete in a pageant— (I know because I saw Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality) the “pageant queen life” is short-lived. However, the exposure and post-pageant benefits can be lucrative to say the least. Robin Meade, Phyllis George, Kathie Lee Gifford, and wouldjabelieveit, Oprah Winfrey, have all spent time under tiaras and sashes! As have innumerable other women both famous and otherwise.
In a culture that rightly or wrongly puts a premium on the young and beautiful, beauty pageants represent an opportunity for young attractive women to promote themselves and advance their careers. Should physical attractiveness be the sole variable in evaluating a woman’s worth? Should a woman’s worth be evaluated on physical appeal at all ? Obviously not. Moreover, the oft heard argument that beauty pageants objectify women and pander to paternalistic interests loses some of its punch when the male equivalent of pageants is taken into consideration, namely, body-building exhibitions.
The same emphasis on physical definition and attractiveness is present in men’s body building but it’s framed within a male context. Admittedly, both spectacles reinforce the status quo with regards to the gender binary but that in itself is not to suggest that women are objectified any more than their male counterparts.
It’s hypocritical, to criticize beauty queens and the pageants that make them so when we live in a culture that adored Princess Diana taking note of her wardrobe and hairstyle on any given occasion. It’s the same kind of superficial scrutiny her daughter-in-law, Kate Middleton is subjected to today. Let’s face it, most of us are aware that Brad Pitt, George Clooney, and Bradley Cooper have been heralded as People magazine’s “Sexiest Man Alive” at various times. The standard is the same for men and women alike. The public is drawn to and fascinated by the beautiful among us.
Physical beauty like any other desired trait is valued perhaps because only a percentage of the population possess it in significant measure. Athletes are hailed and applauded for their physical prowess. The idea of superstar or supermodel is simply a reflection of their gifts standing beyond the reach of their peers.
It does not necessarily follow that to exalt physical attractiveness on the one hand is to denigrate homeliness or plainness on the other. Mother Theresa, Margaret Thatcher, Jane Goodall, Eleanor Roosevelt and countless other women are revered, esteemed, and admired for their contributions apart from any considerations regarding their physical attractiveness or perceived lack thereof.
But to return to Ms. Parker:
“It would be refreshing if she told the world that being a woman isn’t just about curves in the right places, glossy lipstick and perfectly coiffed hair. Womanhood – and the discrimination that comes with God-given assets or medically created ones – is so much more than sparkly pageant gowns.”
But I would argue that advocating the position above is not Ms. Talackova’s responsibility. Rather, the task falls to her sisters, trans and otherwise—those of us lacking her very natural beauty. You can trust me when I say, Jenna Talackova’s beauty is far beyond the means of medical science to emulate or we’d be inundated with many more potential beauty queens.
Realistically, if a woman as attractive as Ms. Talackova were to tell the world her physical beauty is not important—would we believe her?
I think not.