miss world, senior pageants, images of old women

I am torn between taking days? weeks? months?  to master the WordPress software before posting anything and the urgency of posting what is relevant today and may not be tomorrow. The Miss World contest has reappeared in London and while some feminists demonstrated outside the venue, the Guardian newspaper reports that 1 billion people have watched it throughout the world. The forty-year old arguments for and against are rehashed in the newspapers and the radio and TV.

I had a difference of opinion with a feminist friend of mine earlier this year. The cover page of the magazine issue of the Guardian of 26.02.11 sported a full size photo of a woman in an elaborate ball gown and the title: Still Got It : Welcome to the pageant for pensioners. 12 more pictures of women aged between 61 and 86 covered over 4 pages of the magazine, and the article about the old women pageant was written by a man. A few lines about each of them revealed that some of them are active, professionals or work in the community. Only two of them mention cosmetic surgery. All of them celebrate their age, and praise the pageant for giving them confidence and opportunities. My friend pointed all this out to me and thought the article was OK .  http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/feb/26/ms-senior-america-pageant

I found it very offensive. I resented the cover picture and caption Still got it. GOT WHAT? The wow factor, said one of the contestants is not what they judge us on. ‘Our beauty comes from within, the elegance, the poise, the self assurance.’ Alas the images and even some of the text belie this. One of the contestants entered the competition at the suggestion of her 99-year-old father and ‘out of respect for him’.  The winner performed ‘a lip pouting, hip wriggling routine ‘. The images also lie. The three full-page portraits have been heavily airbrushed and not a wrinkle or fold is seen. The smaller images have been retouched too.

What offends me  is not so much the pageant itself. It is an insignificant, American oddity and the women who enter the competition enjoy the experience. But all the same it is in the same thread as the exploitative little girls’ beauty contests, and the Miss World event. Now we – oid women – have to fall in with this cultural norm?. What makes me furious is that a paper like the Guardian publishes this article with no sense of feminist awareness.

The STILL Got It caption, is in the same vein as STILL Doing It and is supposed to convey a ‘positive’ image of old women when in fact it demeans them. And who chose the photo on the front cover?  Wouldn’t you expect it to show the winner of the competition?  But the winner of the competition is black, her dress is relatively simple and sleek, her stance is assertive and she looks straight into the camera. The cover woman is blonde with a voluminous pink dress and she looks to the side and slightly upward in what I call the ‘Look at Me’ pose.

Who on earth thought that such an article and illustrations would be of any interest to anybody? A senior beauty contest in America? Have we nothing else to think and read about? Who is this article aimed at?


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