women empowerment or regression at its worst?
Daily O, India
This is the first time a woman would sport a hijab in the finals of the beauty pageant.
The finals of Miss England slated for later this week will see a 20-year-old woman walking the ramp in hijab for the first time in its history.While women have walked down the ramp sporting fancy hijabs in qualifying rounds of the event, this is the first time a woman would do it in the finals.Is this going to script a story of women empowerment, or is it going to set a ridiculous trend?
The ultimate example of women empowerment
Beauty pageants are all about celebrating women’s bodies. And what better way to empower women than to let them enjoy complete control over how they choose to do so. Feminism has for long been battling for a world which sees women as individual human beings who get to decide for themselves.
Speaking of her choice to wear the hijab, Sara Iftekhar, the 20-year-old, who is going to sport a hijab at the Miss England finals, said, “Everyone is beautiful in their own way, regardless of weight, race, colour or shape.”
And that precisely is what women trying to break the stereotypes of beauty have been attempting to underline.
Freedom lies in dressing up, but it also lies in dressing less. It is about dropping the veil when desired and also about covering up when felt like. It is the emancipation that lets women wear what they want, to be where they want to be, to do what they choose to do — to wear a hijab, or a bikini.Veils are also seen by many as a symbol of women’s subjugation. They are oblivious to women crying their lungs out, trying to assert what you decide to do as an act of freedom is not subjugation — it is choice.Beauty pageants for long have been trying to push down our throats a certain body type, a certain image of a modern woman, which needs to be celebrated pushing women towards anorexia and bulimia.
In the day and age of the #MeToo movement, beauty pageants have woken up to the reality that feminism is ultimately only about the right to exercise one’s choice. The concept of what beauty is and how it should be judged is changing, and that is something we must all welcome.
Twenty-year-old Sara Iftekhar is set to make history by becoming the first woman to wear a hijab in the Miss England finals.More power to Sara — she has every right to make her individual choices. But to those celebrating this as a great moment of feminism, inclusivity and equality, let’s get real.Nothing about beauty pageants, in their present form, is feminist.However, as the world wakes up to women being human beings in their own right and not just creatures existing to make men’s lives more pleasant, it is becoming difficult to justify a contest that has women sashaying around, being graded on the perfectness of their bodies and smiles, all for the grand honour of winning a tiara.Thus, beauty pageants are adapting. Some have scrapped the swimsuit round, some aggressively advertise their ‘personality’ rounds. But beneath all the talk and the tokenism, the fact remains that these are just steps to make a blatantly sexist ogle-fest a little more palatable to “woke” minds.
Hijab and beauty pageants are mutually contradictory.
The hijab, as understood by many, is supposed to keep a woman covered from the lustful gaze of men. How does that fit into a competition that is all about celebrating a woman’s sexiness?The ‘contestant in a hijab’ is, thus, likely to be another PR exercise for the institution of beauty pageants.In the past, we have seen contestants “on the heavier side”, making it to a few rounds of pageants, or women of colour competing in white-dominated countries. While all of these are celebrated as revolutionary steps on the path of exclusion, the winner is always physically the closest human approximation of a Barbie doll.
“Allowing” a woman of colour, of a certain body type, one wearing a hijab to compete in such competitions is not empowerment — it just highlights more clearly the oppressive, dehumanising definition of “beauty” we have accepted as the normal.Using the hijab as a symbol of choice and empowerment is also open to criticism. Of course, there are a lot of women who wear the hijab voluntarily, and no one has the right to comment on their choice.But individual choice can be respected without glorifying the hijab itself — in many ways, the most visible symbol of patriarchal control over women’s bodies, and something women in Iran, Saudi Arabia, in millions of household across the world are struggling every day to cast aside, and getting violently punished for it.
There is nothing wrong in women wearing a hijab, just as there is nothing wrong in women voluntarily entering competitions that grade them on their sexiness.But pious statements about “celebrating all kinds of beauty” can’t put the crown of feminism on beauty pageants, or of “liberation” on hijabs.