Why Miss Universe needs to keep kicking ass

Some say beauty pageants are outdated, but the women winning them aren't, writes Bambina Olivares

04 December 2017 - 13:09 By Bambina Olivares
Self-defence expert Demi-Leigh Nel Peters was recently crowned Miss Universe.
Self-defence expert Demi-Leigh Nel Peters was recently crowned Miss Universe.
Image: Supplied

Sometimes it's like we're being punked by life itself. Just as #MeToo seems to be rupturing the silence that had surrounded the stories of women who've been sexually harassed, assaulted, abused and raped by men who dispensed with consent while imposing their power over them, resulting in powerful men being exposed (and not in ways they would have preferred), here comes the ultimate female sporting event on a global scale, and with a glamorous sheen to boot: the Miss Universe pageant.

There's no doubt that the new Miss Universe, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, who hails from the Western Cape, is absolutely stunning. And seeing she teaches women self-defence - she even foiled a kidnapping attack in Joburg a mere month ago - she believes in female empowerment. Clearly she can kick any man's ass.

So why does such a woman join a beauty pageant? Not that I'm knocking beauty contests. Of course there is some cachet to being named the most beautiful woman in the village, or the town, or the city, or the province, or the country, or the entire universe. At the very least it requires endurance, nerves of steel, a certain level of articulate speech and the ability to cry without ruining your mascara.

After all it is a marathon of sorts, and to win the title means subjecting yourself to a gruelling training regimen that includes several rounds of parading in a long gown to highlight your regal glamour, sashaying about in a swimsuit to demonstrate your sex appeal, smiling endlessly to show your approachable beauty, garnering likes and votes on social media to prove your influencer potential, captivating the judges by displaying your charm and intelligence, and so on.

And let's face it, winning a beauty title is a passport to fame, wealth and opportunity. But it just seems a little tone-deaf in a country where violence against women is frighteningly widespread. It also seems anachronistic, when viewed through the prism of real, and hopefully lasting, changes to the patriarchy that has long oppressed and objectified women in so many unsavoury ways, that this is still a competition that measures a woman's value on the basis of her looks first and foremost.

But lest we forget, beauty is its own power, and may well be the ultimate form of soft power. With all the problems besetting South Africa at the moment, a Miss Universe win is a nice little national morale booster.

I don't really care what Demi-Leigh does with her title, or her prize money, as long as she keeps kicking ass and refuses to take crap from any man.

This article was originally published in The Times.