I have always considered beauty pageants to be sexist and demeaning. The TV show Toddlers and Tiaras takes the concept to the extreme with the exploitation of children to satisfy the egos of parents whose vanity exceeds their care for the welfare of their daughters. The adult versions are hardly better.
Having said that, beauty pageants cane be very strict and very arbitrary with the standards of what constitutes the ‘morality’ that candidates must adhere to.
The latest example of this is Jenna Talackova of Vancouver who qualified for the Miss Universe Canada contest, and then was removed from the competition. The problem with Miss Takackova in the minds of the organizers is that she was born into the body of a man, and underwent surgery to transform her body to match her gender. She was very open about her surgery and last year competed in the Miss International Queen Pageant; a pageant that is open only to transgendered women.
So the question is–why was she allowed into this competition in the first place? In the days of Internet searches, it is patently ridiculous that things such as Miss Talackova’s surgery and previous experience was unknown to the organizers. It seems much more likely that somewhere in the group is a trans-phobic individual with enough clout to force the issue.
These pageants are private concerns, and as such can set their own rules for entry. However, they have a tendency to be very arbitrary about those rules, and have removed the crowns of winners they have deemed to have transgressed those rules, usually after some activities have become public. Some because of the Internet, and some despite the Internet. In most cases, it seems that the organizers’ process of ‘due diligence’ is very reactionary rather than pre-emptive.
There are numerous examples of contestants who have faced controversy. Some retained their standing, and some did not.
- In 1957, Leona Gage won the Miss USA title only to lose it the next day when it was revealed that she was married and had two children. (how hard would a phone call to the community have been?)
- Domonique Ramirez, Miss San Antonio 2011 supposedly lost her crown after increasing her dress size to 2. Organizers claim there were other issues, but the controversy remains.
- Rima Fakih, 2010 Miss USA almost lost her crown when pictures of her pole dancing (while clothed) surfaced. Apparently participating in a competition based on a major fitness craze is inappropriate. She did, however, retain her title.
- Vanessa William, Miss America 1984 is perhaps the most famous victim of overexposure. After becoming the first woman of colour to win the pageant, naked pictures of her were published in Penthouse Magazine. As an aside, this issue is now illegal to possess as the centrefold that month was an under-age Traci Lord.
- Valérie Begue, Miss France 2008 retained her title after racy pictures surfaced, but was barred from competing at world competitions.
- Dayana Mendoza, Miss Universe 2008-09, retained her title also after racy, later deemed artistic, photos came to light.
- Christina Silva, Miss California USA 2007, was stripped of her title, supposedly due to a voting error, but the explanation changed as the events unfolded.
If they really care about the integrity of your competition, shouldn’t they do a bit of research first?
Miss Talackova is also not the first contestant to face discrimination based upon her birth gender.
When the reigning Miss France, Elodie Gossuin, was rumored last week to be a postoperative transsexual, organizers of the Miss Universe pageant—in which Gossuin was competing—responded to the bombshell as if it were, well, the end of the universe. “This would not be good,” pageant owner Donald Trump told reporters. A pageant spokeswoman put it more bluntly: “If she turns out to be a man, we’ll put her on the first plane to France.”
Miss Gossium passed a chromosome test, retained her acceptance by Donald Trump. What is it about transgender women that makes them unfit to compete? Some countries subsidise cosmetic surgery for contestants so that can’t be the issue. Transphobic discrimmination seems to be the only answer.
What makes the removal of Miss Talackova particularly interesting is that changes to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code are to be debated in the House of Commons. Bill C279, An Act to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code (gender identity and gender expression), would add protection for transgendered people against discrimination.
I do not understand why most women would enter a beauty pageant, but the acceptance then rejection of Miss Talackova, brings the issue of transgender discrimination into the public eye. Winners are supposed to be articulate, intelligent, beautiful, and poised. Miss Talackova seems to possess all of these qualities, what difference what she looked like prior to surgery?