Pageants in Asia: A Question of Future Relevance

Apr 18, 2019 | Asia, Pop, What!

    South East Asia Desk

Should pageantry continue in the region? Can it become more than just a sounding board for beauty standards?

While most of the world has moved on from beauty pageants and now treat them more of a pastime than a serious undertaking worthy of time and other personal resources, pageantry is quite alive in Asia, especially in countries that make it a point to join international beauty contests like the Miss Universe pageant.

Miss Tiffany's Universe Thailand

Miss Tiffany’s Universe Thailand | DrBurtoni

Thailand, along with South Korea, Japan, the Philippines – all of these countries are perennially involved with beauty pageants at various levels, from local beautycons to international pageants. Ms. Philippines recently won Miss Universe, tailed by Ms. South Africa and Ms. Venezuela. As expected, PH viewers were beyond ecstatic because of Catriona Gray’s huge win, and she – along with previous Miss Universe title holders from the Philippines – will be enjoying endorsements and even acting opportunities if she finds those desirable in the coming months and years.

The value of beauty pageants seem to be equated with some degree of empowerment, at least in the individual level. Canadian transgender woman Julie Vu wants to compete in the Miss International Queen in Thailand, which is the equivalent of the Miss Universe in the world of transgender women.

She says that she looks up to pageant queens and princesses as role models, and as we see it, the culmination of her seven-year journey toward becoming a transgender woman will be her stint as a contestant at the Miss International Queen pageant.

Pageantry doesn’t end with women or transgender women – there are male pageants in almost every country, and South Korea’s Seung Hwan Lee’s win at the Mister International 2018 is proof that while not everyone can bag a Miss Universe title, the men can certainly bat for each country as well. Seung competed with twenty five other men in the competition and emerged as the 12th Mister International.

India’s pageantry scene is doing quite well, much like in Thailand and the Philippines. Dedicated news outlets serving the region serve frequent updates on the pageantry scene, lauding the “prettiest and most desirable” faces over the years. There is no shortage of news articles on glamorous photo shoots, upcoming pageants, as well “juicy news” on the candidates themselves. Indian pageantry serves as subset of local showbiz, giving Indian viewers more reasons to tune in and follow the life and times of these young, beautiful women who put themselves up to be measured for their physical beauty.

The medium is the message? 

For the most part, beauty competitions are regaled as a means to communicate to a much wider audience key messages that are supposedly important to everyone’s lives.

The Miss Universe for one commonly uses pro-environment promotions to show that the beauty queens are not just there to be pretty; they are there to be ambassadresses of important messages to the world.

Messages that we hope are actually penetrating their intended audiences, and ultimately, causing things to change for the better. For what is the use of a multi-million dollar international beauty pageant that supposedly exists to help push forth important causes, if it fails in its larger and more substantial mandate? 

Hopefully, in a not so distant future, these pageants would become genuine beacons of social change. Of course, many would argue that beauty contests are just that – beauty contests.

They are made to entertain people and to uphold certain beauty standards that people find agreeable at a certain time. But it still remains that beauty pageants have yet to fully reach their potential as possible spaces for more important issues, issues that require the loud and festive stage of beauty pageants in order to raise awareness and trigger actual social action.

We wait with bated breath for this time to come. 

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