The Gibraltarian lady whose face I recognised (though not her name) asked me to “like” her business page on Facebook. I often get requests from strangers to “like” this or “share” that on any of the social media sites I use. A quick glance at a profile will tell me all I need to know before agreeing to such requests.
But in this lady’s case her business page appeared to be fighting for attention with the numerous profile photos of her participating in beauty contests. It’s also clear she started on the beauty pageant carousel at a very young age.
I was a little taken aback by a photo where she looks not much older than a toddler; her pretty, infant face, crowned by a sparkly tiara, she’s wearing jewellery, make-up and the huge, self-satisfied smile of a winner. She probably stopped smiling when she saw that she’d got far more “likes” for her beauty queen photos than she did for her business page.
I’ve often wondered why, there are still so many young girls in Gibraltar who seem to love entering beauty contests? How come there’s such a mind-boggling array of beauty pageants (“Dream Girl of the Year,” “Miss Glamour” anyone?) in a place the size of the Rock? There’s a beauty pageant for everyone it seems from the very young right through to the adult Miss Gibraltar and there’s even a Mrs Gibraltar (so the competitions are no longer exclusive to unmarried women.)
Every year, for no obvious reason, a seemingly endless procession of young beauty queens and their attendant princesses almost overshadow the Three Kings at the popular Cavalcade. They parade through Main Street waving at the crowds from the back of an open-topped car, shivering in their skimpy dresses and tiaras. The event is no doubt one of the highlights of their reign and a chance to bask in the warm glow of the cheering crowds lining the route.
Christina Hodel at the University of Kansas carried out a study on young girls and beauty pageants in September 2014: “The more hyper-feminised the girls are, the more likely they are to win,” Hodel said. “And, winning means approval that they are not only beautiful, but that they did everything right. So we are telling the girls that if you want to succeed, you really have to be someone who looks like a sexy adult female,” Hodel said.
What message does this send out to young girls who will be the women of tomorrow? If from a young age, Gibraltarian girls participate in activities that focus on physical appearance, it can instil the idea that physical beauty and superficial charm are the keys to success. Thus self-worth and self-esteem are inextricably linked to attractiveness.
My criticisms of child beauty pageants are not limited to the hyper-feminisation of girls or the early sexualisation of children, which in themselves are reasons enough to oppose them. Yes, admittedly it’s a question of consent (by parents in the case of children and choice by the adults who enter the competitions.) What really irks me is that beauty contests judge “being pretty” in the same way that one might judge “being a talented athlete” or “being a violin virtuoso.” Miss Gibraltar or Miss World aren’t “good at” being Miss Gibraltar or Miss World they are simply rewarded for fitting a particular mould, the judges’ idea of what is beautiful. Yes the contestants also do some charity work which is always a good thing. Some may even continue the charity work once their 12-month reign comes to an end. Most do not.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with being beautiful and playing “dressing up.” I’d like to think that parents of young daughters encourage them to believe that there are other activities and talents to focus on that are rewarding and will prove more useful throughout their lives – more so than winning a beauty contest. (NB. looks are fleeting, brains are forever.) Disclaimer: Just to be clear, I’m not in any way disrespecting the choices made by past participants of beauty contests or their parents.
Described by organisers as “one of the highlights of the Rock’s social calendar” Miss Gibraltar is the big one, with the longest tradition (it’s been going since 1959) the biggest prizes and the most media attention. It’s front page news when the first contestant signs on to take part each year and there’s a big build-up in the local press to the show itself which is televised. I remember in the seventies as a young girl how my parents would often host drinks and dinner for family and friends getting together to watch “the Miss Gibraltar Show.”
Time and again during the interview process, I hear Miss Gibraltar contestants describe it as “their childhood dream” or “a long time ambition.” Fair enough, but why don’t we hear about any other ambitions they might have, aside from winning a beauty contest? Surely, being crowned Miss Gibraltar isn’t the height of some girls’ ambition?
It saddens and perplexes me that in an age where beauty contests the world over are increasingly seen as outdated and superficial, they are such a “big thing” in Gibraltar.
The point I’m trying to make is that when I see the prominence given to beauty queens in the Rock’s social calendar, it feels slightly at odds with the times we live in. It’s not representative of the many Gibraltarian, professional women whose route to success had nothing to do with rehearsed poses, smiles, heavy make-up and diamante crowns.