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Making sense of beauty

Underage and overweight are two issues being debated after the conclusion of Miss Kerala 2008. PRIYADERSHINI S.gets an overview from people related to the field

Photo: H. Vibhu

Beyond beauty These shows are not all about skin deep beauty

Go girls go! But how far? There were two questions that emerged from the glitz and glamour of the recently concluded Miss Kerala 2008 event: just how young is too young to participate? Is sweet sixteen, the age of second runner-up, a good age to ente r a professional contest like this? And the weighty issue of overweight. Is there space for plump participants in a beauty pageant?

The youngest contestant, precocious and charming, Ann Joseph, a student of standard X1 says, “It is not a fragile age to enter such a contest. Even though I have become a title holder there is no change in my life. I was not forced to participate. I am sure I won the award because I was smart. Beauty pageant does not mean just beauty.” Ann at 15 has represented India at the 4th Girl-Child Peace camp at Kathmandu. For her a girl must know what is right from wrong. She roots for her plump friend saying fat or young is not the question but smartness is.

The earlier the better, says Harish Babu, MD Impresario, organisers of the event. Defending both the age and weight issue he says, “The grooming session which the participants go through gives them loads of confidence. The change is helpful in personality development.” For him Miss Kerala is not just beauty but capsules the whole package of personality and intelligence. “Whether a contestant is plump or skinny but if she has scored high in the preliminary rounds we allow her to contest. After all she can learn from the experience and represent Kerala at other pageants.” Fat is not a factor and the event is a search for a well-rounded personality that represents the modern Malayali woman.

Reasons Dr. Mary Joseph on her young daughter’s participation, “I am against parents who force their children into competitions. But with my daughter it was different. She was very comfortable throughout the grooming sessions. We were in constant touch with her.” As an active child right promoter she adds, “If girl children are comfortable then why should they not be empowered at a young age? .” She feels that there can be a Miss Teen Kerala contest for the teenagers and informs that the National Youth Policy, 2003, ranges youth from 13 to 35 but categorises 13-19 as adolescents.

Merita Bernard, Femina Miss Talent at the Miss India, 2004, and now settled in Kochi says, “Age is not a barrier if they are mature in their thinking and ways. Ann won in it so she must be a mature girl.” And though there are contests for plus size women abroad she feels that plump is definitely a beauty issue and a definite no-no, “healthy yes, but not overweight.”

Psychiatrist at Medical Trust Hospital Dr. C. J. John says, “I know this contestant and family. Her case may be different but I am certainly not for under-18 girls to participate in such contests. The same thing is happening in reality shows. A 16-year-old is not equipped to handle such publicity. By saying it is total personality development and not beauty the organisers are glorifying the issue. At the end it is mainly about physical beauty.”

He says that, a funny generation of parents and a culture is evolving in Kerala that’s mad after such events. Though he appreciates the fact that the organisers have been considerate and not given the contest a sexual orientation as elsewhere yet he is concerned about the wrong perspective it places success and fame in the tender minds.

Leela Menon, veteran journalist and writer on women’s issues, says that her stand right through has been one of strong condemnation.

“Beauty pageants make commodities of women. It sexualises a woman. Secondly, they justify it by giving it an intellectual dimension. A teenager is too immature to focus on all this. It is not a time to focus on physical assets but develop mental abilities. This distorts the vision of a child.” On the question of a plump contestant she says, “Plump or fat is not a symbol of beauty and should not be encouraged. Even from the angle of health, obesity is bad.”

Defending herself contestant Tina Mathew and winner of Miss Congeniality title says, “I believe everybody is beautiful. It does not matter if you are fat or thin, white or black. Believe in yourself. That’s why I was there.” But Tina happily took her elimination in stride and said, kitiyal Ooty, elingal chatti.”

Well, that’s the attitude, the spirit to try and err, fall and learn. With suitable changes the Miss Kerala event in times to come can become a fairly correct index to the empowered, modern Malayali woman.

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