The year 2018 was a sad one for Miss America, when they removed the swimsuit section from the pageant in a shift away from contestants being judged too much on physical beauty.
Julia Morley, who took over Miss Great Britain from her father Eric in 2000, had already axed the section in 2014, stating that women just walking up and down in bikinis ‘doesn’t do anything for the woman, it doesn’t do anything for any of us.’
This week, Miss England contestant and politics student Melissa Raouf went without make-up in the semi-finals, deciding to rely on only her natural beauty. It’s the first time this has happened in the show’s 94-year history.
What next? No tooth whitener in a nod to times when our rotten teeth fell out naturally? Stop washing our hair because grease is part and parcel of having sebaceous glands below the follicles?
What’s everyone got against beauty? At a time when women are being denied their very gender, this should be a time to celebrate womanhood, not consign it back to the box where it lay dormant for centuries.
I grew up watching beauty pageants on a small black and white TV my parents leased. I loved the other worldliness of them – a life far away from the one I was living growing up in a small village in Wales. The day my parents swapped the old TV for a color one was one of the happiest days of my life; and, ye gods, the first time I saw Miss World in all its rainbow glory, I thought I would expire from excitement.
Columnist Jaci Stephens, pictured in the middle, has been a prominent cultural critic and writer for over 30 years
This week, politics student Melisa Raouf (left without makeup and right,with) made headlines when she became the first ever contestant to appear make-up free at the Miss England competition
My parents used to put my brother and me to bed at 6pm, in the promise that if we slept for two hours, they would wake us up for the start of the competition at 8pm. Oh, the thrill of coming back downstairs in our dressing gowns and being allowed another two hours in adult time in front of the kaleidoscopic array of beauties!
I could only dream of ever looking like one of the hourglasses in a swimsuit. I was going to ballet classes at the time and it was clear from the start that I was never going to cut it on the catwalk.
For the end of term show, the company was divided into two sections – 32 snowflakes, who would don tutus and pink satin pumps, and six fishermen, whose costumes were brown shorts, sandals, and a white and brown gingham top.
I was cast as a fisherman (I can still feel the elastic pinching my plump arms to this day).
I still remember the ’dance’ (I use the word loosely) when, rod in hand, I had to walk onto the stage with my fellow anglers, cast the net, check for a fish and shake my head when I discovered the net was empty. Then, we cast our nets again, marveled at the non-existent fish we had caught and marched off. That was it.
Years later, in secondary school, I was cast as Cinna the poet in Julius Caesar. Basically, the bard walks onstage, says something along the lines of ‘Hello, I’m Cinna the poet’, gets stabbed and is dragged off.
In school nativity plays, I was never going to be Mary – that was always the girl with long blonde hair. Even back then, my hair bore more resemblance to Hitler’s than Marie Antoinette’s.
Stephens, who grew up in rural Wales, writes of her joy at being allowed to stay up late with her brother in order to watch beauty pageants in their youth
Stephens writes that while watching beauty pageants as a youngster she could only dream of looking like the contestants and their hourglass figures
Destined to spend my life in the wings during my youth, I still grew up with an admiration of women whose figures were always going to be better than mine and who were prettier, taller (I am 5ft and, I think, now starting to shrink), and altogether more beautiful than I could ever hope to be.
I still admire them. Gwen Stefani, Jennifer Aniston, Penelope Cruz – I can only sit back and marvel at the luck of the draw. And admire.
Yes, they all have natural beauty, but they also wear make-up for their respective jobs, and they are a darn sight more attractive for doing so. I don’t go to a concert or watch a TV to see the ordinariness of my everyday appearance reflected back at me.
I don’t want to see Dame Joan Collins without her wig and sans make-up; it might be quite terrifying. I want her to be the superstar she is and not care how long she takes to paint on her slap. She is old style glamour – and it’s an uplifting concept in a depressing age. If I wanted to watch Planet of the Apes, I’d download it.
I, like a lot of women, feel better when I’ve had my hair done, put on my make-up and dress smartly. I know a lot of men who feel the same (make-up included) – look at Ru Paul’s Drag Race, the most brilliant show that is a celebration to the art of make-up and costume – and swimwear, I might add (and I will certainly never look as gorgeous as these guys).
Like it or not, the beauty industry is huge, because most of us do not possess ‘natural beauty’; nor do we have just okay, let alone perfect figures. Melissa Raouf is 20; she has high cheekbones and is, clearly, that elusive thing called a natural beauty. Would that the rest of us were so lucky.
But we’re not. ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever’ said the great Romantic poet, John Keats. ‘Its loveliness increases; it will never/Pass into nothingness.’ Amen to that. So, let’s continue to enjoy beauty, especially at a time when there is so much ugliness in the world.
And Ru Paul – keep those swimsuits coming.