January 13, 2012

Miss Representation: What Competing in Beauty Pageants Taught Me about Beauty. ~ Becky Farrar


This weekend marks the 91st Miss American Pageant event.

I don’t want to be considered just another angry feminist as I only occasionally get very upset and most of the time it’s at the whole world and not just the opposite gender.

However, after seeing the Miss Representation documentary, I was taken back to my sophomore year in Women’s Studies class and became livid all over again.The film struck a chord in me and I felt a familiar furiousness at men, media and all of society.

Everywhere I looked it seemed my value was to be found solely in my appearance and I was considered worthless otherwise.

After a few days stewing over TV, magazines and advertisements, I decided to explore the true cause troubling me. It wasn’t until then that I realized that underneath the blame for others existed a deep-rooted anger at myself for being an active, unconscious participant.

Somewhere along the way, it seems that women choose between wanting to be appreciated for their looks or something else — at least I did.

In middle school and high school I was much more friendly and smart than I was nice to look at. I got good grades and was proud of my well-roundedness through participating in student government, athletics and choir. However, once I made it to college and joined a sorority, the most important thing was representing my sisters well — by that I mean looking pretty.

Nathan Rupert

Suddenly it didn’t seem to matter as much that I was excelling academically, playing lacrosse or was on student council.

I felt more pressure to wear nice clothes or look a certain way in order to be liked by my fellow sorority members.

The problem was, I didn’t really wear makeup or even know how to blow dry my hair (I still don’t). Needless to say, I didn’t fit into my sorority well.

The late bloomer I am, it wasn’t until after college that I found my more “attractive” self by wearing a designer wardrobe to my job as a publicist. I felt valued for my talents and only occasionally felt bothered when the older men I worked with called me, “honey” or, “sweetie.”

Adreson Vita Sá

Being good at my job didn’t get me dates and in fact, having a career, especially in government, seemed to scare away most men.

I wanted to do something that involved feeling beautiful and attracting guys. So, I got a job working as a spokes model for several liquor companies and did part-time modeling. I would work all day in a suit and then change into my mini-skirt and head to the bar to make double what I made per hour at my desk job.

It was fun to have jobs that complemented the different parts of me. I met a lot of men at my “night job” and enjoyed an active dating life.

Once I started getting attention for my looks I didn’t want it to stop. I thought the more people who agreed I was beautiful then the more true it became. I was inspired to compete in Miss Colorado after meeting the current titleholder at an event. She was stunning and everyone wanted to be near her, I couldn’t help but feel envious of her title, her presence and of course, her beauty.

I immediately looked up all the information I could find and registered for the next Miss America preliminary pageant. In the meantime, I worked out like crazy, took voice lessons and practiced posing in front of the mirror (thank goodness I lived alone during this time).

When the day of the pageant arrived, I felt confident in my ability to win knowing I looked the part (80 percent of crown winners are blonde) and was well-rounded in the other required areas.

At the time, it seemed to me that the other competitors didn’t stand a chance.

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The other women in the pageant were nice; they taught me useful things such as how to walk properly to look slim and how to tape my boobs together (no, really they did and it works wonders).

The evening finished after the talent show, evening wear, interviews and swimsuit competition and I didn’t win. I got a second runner up position and received the cheesy Spirit Award (similar to the Miss Congeniality award) for “promoting friendship and sportsmanship.”

I was really disappointed not to walk away with a crown; I put in so much effort and had all the qualities they were looking for.

I truly believed I had found somewhere I could showcase who I really was and be appreciated for it. I remember looking at the winner (who had blonde hair and blue eyes) and wishing I knew what she had that I didn’t.

Looking back now, I realize I wasn’t missing anything, but on that day to those specific judges she was the fairest of them all. I learned a valuable lesson about beauty through that experience— it changes depending upon how you look at it.

Transforming the way we relate to beauty isn’t about refusing to wear makeup or feeling unattractive.

It’s about defining beauty for yourself and not just believing the depictions of women in advertising and magazines.

More than anything else, the film Miss Representation, reveals the ways (consciously or unconsciously) we participate in the misrepresenting of ourselves. We do have a say in how it happens.

Below are actions suggested by the Miss Representation organization from their Web site:

• Stop reading magazines and watching movies and TV shows that objectify and degrade women.

• Make an effort to see movies and TV shows directed and written by women.

• Call out disturbing media and ads by posting to Facebook or Twitter to spark awareness.

• Write to media and advertising companies complimenting them when they highlight positive images of women and girls. Call them out when they don’t.

• Look out for ways in which you speak or others value women solely for youth, beauty, or sexuality.

For a period in my life I chose to put my main attention upon my looks for getting what I wanted out of life, only to realize quickly that it wasn’t my best feature. So this weekend, during the airing of the 91st Miss America pageant, I will not be watching or participating in the competition (after 25 you are too old to compete anyway).

I will instead be hosting a screening of Miss Representation and bringing along my Spirit of Pageantry Award as a reminder that while the judges may not have seen me as the deserving winner of that pageant; they were able to see a part of my beauty that wasn’t visible to the eye.

Now, more than ever, I value my kindness and ambition more than a crown.

My dreams of Miss America have certainly faded, but now more than ever, I am actually grateful I didn’t win. The experience forced me re-evaluate my idea of what it meant to be beautiful. I now know the women (in the pageant and the media) don’t represent me or you, or anyone else for that matter. They instead represent a way of being in the world where beauty is decided by someone else.


Becky Farrar is a self-proclaimed adventurer, philosopher and lover of life. She currently lives in San Francisco (or Man Franpsycho as she likes to call it) and attends the California Institute of Integral Studies in the Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness program. When Becky isn’t at the library, she can be found doing yoga on her roof, running in Golden Gate Park or staring at the clouds. Visit her at www.beckyfarrar.com.


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beckymf Jan 15, 2012 6:13pm

Thanks Krishna! I was really touched by that article and also the one about "He-Man v. Pee-Wee." I appreciate that you took the time to read this article and leave such a thoughtful comment…and especially the "knee bowing thing." =)

Krishnabrodhi Jan 15, 2012 10:45am

You had me doing the whole on my knees bowing to the big holy with this sentence alone…. " I realized that underneath the blame for others existed a deep-rooted anger at myself for being an active, unconscious participant."

I have had endless conversations with women in my life who absolutely positively would not take the slightest bit of ownership of their emotional reactions and participation in the situation with regard to women in the world today. So thank you thank you thank you for saying that. I have been with women that have been emotionally tortured by the cult of beauty and comparison and it is such a sad situation. And it can be so tiresome to live with as well. One could easy come to a space of seeing women walking around with a hole in their self esteem buckets that have to be constantly be filled with compliments on how they look. Obviously that isn't true but so many girls are started off on that path from birth, with the automatic go-to praise always being about how cute or pretty they are. And a lot of that comes from women that have also been referred to in that matter since they day they were born too. I tried to point that fact out to a woman at work who was planning a "princess party" for her daughter. I put before her that it might work against her goal of teaching her daughter to be strong and independant if she gives her the disney role models/archetypes for weakness and codependance. She basically like I was an a-hole alien from planet jerk prime and immediately put me on disregard. Oh well….

Thanks again for writing this piece. Coincidentally I read another piece today about parenting that seemed very related to what you had to say in this article.

Parenting is 50-50 http://goodmenproject.com/families/parenting-is-5

This quote gives an idea of what it is about…

"Will you please write a blog about the gender inequality among parents? Uri’s trying desperately to be totally egalitarian – but we often feel it’s impossible. Prenatal books all picture moms on the front and focus on the mom inside. Our birth certificate did not require a dad – nor did any of the nurses ask his name. Our bathtub is “mommy’s helper,” our play group is “upper west side mommys.” Don’t get me started about Mount Sinai’s one day paternity leave. How can we expect our kids to be open minded if we box ourselves even before they are conceived?"

The author's advice on how to change the situation seem really similar to yours about how to deal with the concept of beauty in the media.

"So how do we change this? As trite as it sounds, be the change you want to see. Normalize the fact that parenting is 50-50. That (as unbelievable as it sounds) men are just as capable of changing diapers, taking on nighttime duties, hanging out with the kids, etc… as women are. Roll your eyes and speak up against the inanity of movies like the one above.

Above all – change expectations. If we buy into the false expectations that society throws at us via marketing, television, movies, and more, then we’re just feeding the problem. Mothers and fathers may have varying styles of parenting, but that doesn’t automatically mean that dads are simply incapable of doing much more than keep the kids alive."

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