The Color of an Ideal Beauty Queen

by Cherry Zhou

This chapter discusses how skin color matters in a beauty contest. In the hope of challenging racial exclusion outside of contest and colorism within it, the Miss Bronze contest was held first in 1961. One must not ignore a strong social background during the period, when the American society was in the middle of a transformation in black consciousness that emerged from the Civil Right and Black Power Movements. By crowning dark-skinned beauties, dark-skinned women come to realize that they can be seen as beautiful! Miss Bronze’s attractive face and body shape could refute disparaging representations of black women. Such contest encouraged dark-skinned women to be proud of whom they are and created the climate for media to look at black beauty. However, it is because that the black beauty standards were shaped by social movements, when the movements decline, the meanings that they supported weaken. Mass media could then redefine the concept of beauty as social background changes.

Moreover, I believe a beauty pageant is not only just about appearance (including skin color), but more importantly, it could be seen as a major event that celebrates and honors ethnic values. The winner usually serve as a role model of female and through training and education, the beauty is more like a symbol of a certain group and she has the power to unify the group and thus to strengthen it. For example, in Miss Bronze contest, the assumption seems to be that with a little make-up, a home-sewn gown, and charm school courses, any daughter of the striving African American working class could perfect the performance of middle-class, heterosexual, femininity. The winner usually claims positions of exemplary middle-class femininity for black women.

Another point I would like to make is that the social media has a great influence on promoting the image of beauty. What is beauty? It appears that the definition of beauty changes through time as the social climate changes. As I was googling information for this presentation, I found many examples claiming that mass media somehow communicate false/unrealistic image of beauty especially for women to follow. Does media has the power to define beauty in this information era? Few would argue that media defines beauty, but the reality is all we see on TV, magazines, the internet and etc. are sending messages that what kind of look is considered as attractive. The media assaults us daily with images of “beautiful” people and articles on how to make ourselves look just more like them. In Japan, pick up any women’s magazine and there must be articles on how to have a more balanced diet, how to wear better makeup … Society always has an expectation of what is considered attractive. The Miss Bronze Contest challenged the expectation of beauty at that time, but what about now? At the end of the day, it’s not just about appearance. Everyone is beautiful in their way but no one is perfect. Human bodies come in all shapes and sizes and yet the fact is only a few are just like those who are on TV or on magazine covers. Body image can be a very deceptive realm that we all are susceptible to and if people all strive to look like the “beauty” that media creates, which to a large extent very hard to replicate, it is without doubt that they will end up with low self-esteem. There are so many reasons behind the model “beauty image” that media creates such as advertising and other commercial benefits that they are getting; however, I think it will be helpful to build up people’s self-esteem if more positive images and the portrayal of more realistic and healthy instead of pencil-like skinny body types are presented in the media.

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