Are beauty pageants like Miss South Africa still relevant?

Pageants perpetuate narrow definitions of beauty

By  | Jun 22, 2020, 01:46 PM 

Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters is the new Miss SA

Now that the dust has settled, maybe we can have a little chat about Miss South Africa. And, no, it’s not about whether or not Demi-Leigh deserves the crown or nah. You can go to Twitter for that. Look, she’s gorgeous, that’s undeniable, but let’s also talk about beauty and these pageants, shall we?

Miss SA 2

I remember back in the 90s how, once a year, the lounge at my house would turn into something resembling Soccer City on derby match day as my mom, other women from the neighbourhood, and of course, me and my siblings would huddle up to watch who the next Miss South Africa would be. 

I specifically remember 1994, when Basetsane, then Makgalemele, was crowned Miss South Africa. She was hands-down the favourite in that lounge at my house. “Look how she walks,” one of my mom’s friends kept exclaiming. Till this day I find those exclamations hilarious. She was so impressed! I digress. So, was I.

Bassie was then a very skinny, beautiful young lady with legs that went on for days, and it was 1994. A newly elected government was in place, Nelson Mandela was president, and a black beauty queen was Miss SA. What a time to be alive, right?

Fast forward a little over twenty years later though, and I find the idea of a beauty pageant, or at least how they continue to be conducted and judged, very last century.

Have our ideas of beauty not evolved since then? Do we still ascribe feminine beauty to long limbs, flat abdomens, and – evidently – straight hair, and quite clearly some sort of proximity to whiteness? Of course, this is not to pass judgment on the ladies who enter these competitions, but rather the rules of the competition itself. In 2017, why are we still perpetuating this idea that beauty can only come in a skinny frame, and straight hair? 

Demi-Leigh won fair and square as far as the rules are concerned, I am sure, but still, there's no denying that she, and the rest of those contestants embody a singular, and stereotypical ideal.

Miss SA 2
Iol/Yolanda van der Stoep