Witnessing the Objectification in a Beauty Pageant Raised my Respect for Models

Witnessing the Objectification in a Beauty Pageant Raised my Respect for Models

My friends, relatives and acquaintances are yet to understand what blogging truly is. I don’t blame them. The concept of running one’s own magazine is difficult to grasp, mainly because of the unfamiliarity. I, therefore, ignore many of their comments, taking into consideration their ignorance; and believe me, I get plenty of such comments.

The one that I get most, especially after every fashion blog, is that I’m a model. I ignore their thinly veiled mockery, and reassure them, that I’m no model. I’m a blogger. And, I cannot stress this enough – I refuse to be called a model because I do not have what it takes to be one. Having witnessed just a glimpse of what goes into making a successful model during a beauty contest, I can say that I could never be a model. I could never have famous people asking me why I don’t get a nose job or wear a different kind of lingerie to make my body more shapely.

Witnessing the Objectification in a Beauty Pageant Raised my Respect for Models

Witnessing the Objectification in a Beauty Pageant Raised my Respect for Models: JustODThings

Witnessing the Objectification in a Beauty Pageant Raised my Respect for Models

My experience of witnessing a Beauty Pageant

As I mentioned before, a blog site is like a self-run e-magazine. (I’m into lifestyle, food, fashion, etc., by the way – in case this is the first time you’ve visited my blog.) One of the perks of being a blogger is that I sometimes – only sometimes, mind you – I get the chance to visit different events in the city. One such event was the selection round of a pan-India beauty pageant. Let’s not bother ourselves about which particular pageant I am talking about. I was part of the media team, there to click and write about the glamorous event. The panellists included a well-known fashion designer, a former winner of the same pageant, and a socialite of some sort who is probably associated with the sponsors’ team.

The Q/A Round Began

Aspiring Models Waiting to Face Objectification in a Beauty Pageant: JustODThings

Aspiring Models Waiting to Face Objectification in a Beauty Pageant

I was a little late in arriving, and when I took my position behind the judges, the selection process was in the Q/A round that we generally see – beautiful women standing in a half circle, each answering questions asked by the judges, after the ramp walk round. Each of them had the loveliest, brightest, most confident smile on her face: God knows how, after standing on those massively high, murderously pointy heels for so many hours – yes, hours, I’m not exaggerating – in the same position! And, one of the girls almost collapsed, and had to be taken inside. Standing like that for such a long time, with an empty stomach, can do that to a person, I guess.

And then, the One-on-One round of Grilling, Roasting and Objectification!

Now, this is the round that I was not mentally prepared for. This is when I came face to face with the vicious cycle of self-loathing, insecurity, judgment, and jealousy. It brought everything that can shake the self-esteem of a young and vulnerable woman, and eventually build them into women who can ruthlessly attack others.

Group Questioning, Followed by the One-on-One Objectification in a Beauty Pageant: JustODThings

Group Questioning, Followed by the One-on-One Objectification in a Beauty Pageant

Simple ways to judge and objectify

It started with a very simple exercise – the girls, who were nothing but numbers in the same white tank tops and denim shorts, were asked to walk up to the judges, let down their hair, turn their faces to show their profiles, smile at the panellists – you know, everything that can help them be judged for their different body parts, from the tip of the hair to the nails on their toes. And, the judges began. The only person who was kinder and less obnoxious among them was the former pageant winner, perhaps because she had empathy for the girls, having once stood on the other side.

The pieces of advice

I remember how, when one of the girls gave a nice, open smile, the judges started laughing. She was told that smiling so wide and showing so many teeth is not the right way. I hope the girl realised that there was no need to be embarrassed to be laughed at for something that comes to her naturally – it was good advice so that she could master the famous plastic smile. Another girl was told that she needed rhinoplasty, and why she had not yet had it done. And, despite all the obvious hard work of these girls in the gym, almost all of them had to hear how they need to tone their bodies more – no matter where they have to go: the gym or the hospital.

Another girl received the advice that she needed to visit the dentist and get the setting of her teeth corrected. It kept going down (take that in whichever way you want.) One girl was told that she needed push-up brassieres to avoid the sagging of her breasts. I wonder if she had been groomed not to feel embarrassed in case her breasts and her lingerie would be brought up in front of so many people. Another girl was told that she needed to opt for laser hair removal, because her underarms are too dark.

Walk, Stand, Turn Your Face, Open Your Hair, and Smile - Objectification in a Beauty Pageant: JustODThings

Walk, Stand, Turn Your Face, Open Your Hair, and Smile – Objectification in a Beauty Pageant

And the “shocking” replies of some girls

One of the girls was, who was dark and lovely, as most Indian women are, had to hear that she has an ‘unconventional’ look. She was as surprised as I was, and poor girl could not resist asking the judges what the definition of conventional beauty is. much to my delight, the women on the judgy side of the table did not have an answer – they started talking about the common expectations from women, and bid her goodbye with a smile.

Another girl, when grilled about why she had not done necessary cosmetic surgeries, said blatantly that she is happy with herself, and never felt the need to go under the knife. This, the judges did not expect at all. One of the judges, a noted designer, exclaimed, “That’s surprising!” I understand, really; such confidence can seem shocking to people who managed to find something wrong even in the participant whom I have seen ruling the ramps in Kolkata.

How my principle took a hit

The obnoxious heckling of the young, bright-eyed women by the panellists – who were also women – made me realize that I do not belong here. As I watched the efforts of the panellists to turn the girls into a bunch of walking, smiling, mannequins, and their absolute lack of consideration for the health and feelings of the contestants, I realized I want to be in a place where women celebrate each other’s differences, and bring each other up.

There’s a reason I started fashion blogging. Well, there are many, but there’s one that’s relevant here. As a common woman with many flaws, I’ve had people constantly criticising me – for my uneven eyes, by constant gain and loss of bulk because of health issues, my food habits, my clothes, my back-dated style of long hair, my lack of femininity, etc. At one point of time, I decided I don’t care what people say, and that I’ll look the way I want, and wear what I feel like, despite how I look. I will not conform to expectations, or change myself to meet conventional aesthetic ideas. I’ll definitely not resort to ways that don’t agree with my mind or body, like starving myself or getting surgeries and drugs.

Brave Young Women Standing Strong in Front of all the Objectification in a Beauty Pageant: JustODThings

Brave Young Women Standing Strong in Front of all the Objectification in a Beauty Pageant

I’m an angry feminist who uses social media to indulge in, and showcase, everything she loves, besides publicly dissing body-shaming quite ferociously. Who knows? Maybe one person will stumble upon these and think, “If this Potato can, why can’t I?” I’ve appreciated how the socially constructed ideas of beauty are changing gradually, how the health and happiness of women are being taken into consideration, and how people of all shapes, sizes, colours and looks are finding a place in the glamour world. Everyone is allowed to feel happy and pretty – everyone deserves it. And, that’s where this beauty pageant shocked me, by shaking my newly growing faith in the industry.

In a fashion event in December, designer Agnimitra Paul decided to make showstoppers out of acid attack survivors. I have read about plus-size models, about people with Down’s Syndrome finding a place in the fashion industry. But, this show shook that faith of mine with gross degradation and objectification of the women and their bodies, their commodification and commercialization of beauty in general. They made me think that perhaps, the world of pageantry is, after all, built on a foundation of stereotypes, western standards of bony beauty, and the practice of treating women as just flesh and nothing more.

The gross objectification in a beauty pageant opened my eyes

Every time someone says that I’m a model, I react the same way as I would if someone called me a doctor or a soldier or a dancer. There was a time when I did not know what it means to be a model. I had once asked a friend of mine, what talent does it take to become a walking hanger? I regret ever thinking that way. Because, now I know that everything they do requires an incredible amount of understanding of the art of photography, their own body and angles, sense of aesthetics, and a lot more. Even walking or just standing on those heels that instantly take you to a higher altitude is a backbreaking task – almost literally. No, seriously! People with Spondylosis are prescribed to skip heels!

But it’s more than just understanding and knowledge. It’s the perseverance. Diligence. Dedication. Mental strength. Hours of toiling in the gym, skipping meals, walking on heels, question oneself. Without these, a person cannot stand strong and walk with pride in the tinsel world. It takes courage to face rude and callous comments, to change one’s body, often artificially, to live up to the expectations and social standards. Modelling requires hard choices – choices you and I are not in a place to question or judge – and living the consequences of those choices, every step of the way.

Hard-Working, Ambitious Women in the Face of Objectification in a Beauty Pageant: JustODThings

Hard-Working, Ambitious Women in the Face of Objectification in a Beauty Pageant

So, people, when I say that I’m a blogger, not a model, I say it out of respect for those who struggle and survive in the big, bad, beautiful world of glamour.

PS: I think it’s necessary for all my friends and fellow bloggers to know that I have no judgment towards you for visiting and enjoying the prestigious pageant events. In fact, I know it takes a great deal to be a part of these events, and I have nothing but my heartiest congratulations and respect to extend to all of you. I don’t intend to defame any particular brand name, sponsor, or individual, either. The only reason I have decided to bring up this issue is that as a person who believes that the fashion is supposed to make us happy, I find that the treatment of the young, hard-working, ambitious girls who aspire to be models is completely different from the uplifting aspect of “feeling beautiful”, self-love and healthy lifestyle.

(Thanks, The Orange Epistles, for the pictures of the event!)

Oendrila De

The unique, odd, crazy journey of OD, i.e. Oendrila in the world of fashion, food and everything else in this big, bad, beautiful world.

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5 Responses

  1. Liza says:

    Speechless! You always pen down ur feelings coming from the bottom of your heart and each sentence touches the soul of ur readers! All I can say is.. I am proud of u as always.. Keep up the fantastic work!!

    Lots of love
    Liza

  2. Sayeri says:

    I was literally waiting for the post! well said. I have also faced the same question like you, my relatives don’t know the difference between a model and a blogger. I believe a blog is a place where you could write down all your thoughts, a platform to pen down everything you want. As I didn’t attend it so was unware about all these. The problem is our society, our paralyzed mentality. We want to see a shaped body with all artificial perfection.
    I don’t know but is that a way to do the selection? It’s so creepy for me!
    Can we think differently? A model is walking on ramp bare feet with a big smile….need to change that stereotype mentality.

    • Oendrila De says:

      Thank you, Sayeri. Sorry for the late reply. And yes, I agree. It’s all about how we view women in our society. We are easy to judge women. That’s why these attacks on the women on the ramp, that’s why all the questions you and I face as bloggers. These are the ways of the society to demean us in general.

  3. Loved reading your view. Modeling world is truly a vicious place. I have personally witnessed it. But the comments those judges made in such an event is on another level!!

    • Oendrila De says:

      Indeed, Somrita. Every field of creativity has cut-throat competition, because there is no yardstick to measure those. But to attack people for who they are is something they probably do just to channel their personal frustrations.

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