In the last year, I have been invited to participate in four beauty pageants (as a Producer and not a contestant). And despite the fact that I love (I mean absolutely love) organizing events, I turned all four down. Two of these pageants are renowned and no doubt I would have been handsomely paid for my job.
The other two are less known but still likely to be a great cash maker for the organizers. So why did I, a single mother with children to feed turn down a potentially lucrative deal? Because I am principled and believe not all money is good money. And when you are as principled as I am, believe me, many “good” things will pass you by. But I love the fact that at the end of the day, when I spend my money, I spend it knowing I acquired it through means that do not make me feel ashamed of myself.
So what has all this got to do with beauty pageants? Well let me tell you. Spending money I acquire from organizing a beauty pageant would make me feel so awful about myself because I am against beauty pageants. It would be hypocritical of me, an African woman who is against black people wearing hair weaves as their own hair to organize an event which promotes this very thing. But I must confess, when I first arrived in Ghana and worked as a Copywriter / Producer at (Lowe) Lintas, because Lux soap was one of my brands, I worked on Miss Lux beauty pageant from 1996 -2000.
From conceptualization of the event to scripting to stage management to choreography to Emcee, I have been there, done that and written the book! There it is out. I have confessed and feel better. May the universe forgive me for I did not know any better. You see, back in those days, I was just doing my job. I was writing or choreographing or stage managing an event. What I failed to realize was that I was part of the team now promoting and imposing the Western idea of beauty on Africans. Since I came to this realization in 2000, I vowed to myself never to take part in any more beauty pageants.
In all fairness though even in those days, I always fought for girls with natural hair to be included, but always, always the rest of the team would laugh me off. It is amazing but in organizing a beauty pageant in Africa, for Africans, contestants with natural hair are laughed off and mocked by the African event organizers. Even pageants which claim to be about recognizing true African beauty or the true African woman (Miss Malaika, Miss African Queen, Miss Black is Beautiful) eliminate women with natural hair at the very beginning of the auditions.
I have written and talked about the black woman and her false hair and I think by now you all know where I stand on that issue, so I will not really go into it too much here. But I will say this, it is absolutely pathetic that an African woman’s beauty is defined by the false Brazilian or Indian hair she can afford to weave onto her natural God-given hair!
So let me move on and tell give you other reasons why I no longer organize or produce a beauty pageant. The first reason is beauty pageants have now become the way for uncreative people to make money. Why do I say that? People who organize beauty pageants know that sex sells. Look, how many male beauty pageants are out there compared to the female ones?
And when it comes to beauty pageants for women, who are the contestants? Are they not young girls, normally in tertiary level education? In some instances, it has been known for these young girls to go out and source their own sponsorship. The stories of sexual favours that are demanded before these girls can secure the monies needed to participate are incredible.
Some of the event organizers themselves are in on the act and can be considered no better than a pimp putting his prostitutes to work. I have heard of event organizers who as “publicity” or “PR” for their event take their female contestants to bars and watering holes known as “boys boys” clubs. Now tell me is this not pimping? I mean if we are seriously talking about “publicity” and “PR” why limit taking the female contestants to popular male haunts? Why not take them say to an all girls school?
If beauty pageants really are about empowering the African woman, why would an event organizer take her to be ogled by men when he/she can achieve the same level of “publicity” by taking her to meet other women? After all, it is ticket sales that the event organizer is looking for. It is mass texts via phone that the event organizer needs. Does this have to come from only men? Can’t women also buy tickets to the final event or text in to vote for their favorite contestant?
So you see many uncreative people know sex sells and I feel they are using beauty pageants as a way to make some quick money. Some people have even gone on to suggest that these event organizers are exploiting young girls. But really in this day and age, I tend to disagree. I think everyone knows what is going on with beauty pageants. And many of these young girls enter into it with their eyes wide open. They are fully aware, infact; they relish the opportunity to meet “big men”.
Currently, there is a beauty pageant I am still trying to come to grips with – Miss ECOWAS. Apparently, the contestants of Miss ECOWAS are Peace Ambassadors. Now I have seen these girls, with my own eyes dancing at a bar in Accra. And as I looked at each one of them, I had to ask myself, what can these girls do to help the situation in La Cote d’Ivoire? How about the situation in the Niger Delta? I am sorry to say, but I cannot see these girls going on the streets, and talking to armed young men about why they should not fight. I cannot see a group of angry and hungry young men being calmed by a group of skinny young girls. It is simply not happening. Maybe as ECOWAS Ambassadors these young beauty queens are more useful to the “big men” of ECOWAS.
Now that I can see. But seriously if ECOWAS really needs Peace Ambassadors they should consider young men, the true peers of those who tend to engage in fights. Because the moment a fight breaks out, our beauty queens will use their long acrylic fingered hands to hold onto their hair weaves and run fast.
Going back to the issue of empowering women and I truly do not see how event organizers can make this claim. Look from the moment event organizers have chosen their contestants, one of the first things they do is disempowered women. How? By making them loose their identity. You watch any beauty pageant across Africa and (maybe apart from South Africa) all the contestants look the same.
All the girls are taken to the same salon for the same type of hair weaves. This is followed by dressing them all the same in the same or similar African fabric. And then everybody is taught / choreographed to walk and talk in the same way. So where is the empowerment? Whatever unique qualities a contestant entered the pageant with has now been stripped off her. Watching a beauty pageant in Africa, after a few seconds all the contestants begin to blend into one.
Personally, I think a woman who has access to education and an income can be empowered. So I ask, how do beauty pageants help on this level? Well, most of the contestants as I mentioned earlier tend to be tertiary level students who have to stay off school during the pageant! And if they win, their education takes a backseat for a year whilst they are driven around, gracing social occasions, appearing on TV, attending high profile events, working on their “project”, etc. Incidentally, we never seem to hear much about these “projects” once their reign is over.
If event organizers really want to empower women, they should take the budgets allocated for organizing beauty pageants and find suitable projects they can invest in that will benefit all women. It can be a community college. It can be an association of female farmers…whatever. Because, women empowerment is about giving women access to funds that will improve their lives. And I do not see how putting young girls on TV for a few months (so people can vote for their favourite contestant) is empowering them.
And the argument that “oh, you will meet people” is over used. Every year, new contestants meet people, but how many of these girls can truthfully say their lives received a meaningful boost as a result of contesting in a beauty pageant? Where are all our past Miss Ghanas, Miss Zimbabwes, Miss Botswana, Miss Uganda etc… Are they all high flying professional women? I very much doubt that.
So I think it is time we called a spade a spade and realize that indeed these beauty pageants are in effect doing very little for the African woman, but may indeed be doing a lot for the “big” African man.
But hey these are just the reflections of an ordinary African woman.
From: Akua Blakofe | TV & Radio Presenter/Producer
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