Nina Davuluri became the first American Indian to win the Miss America crown. Granted, she is more dark skinned than many of us in the South Asian region would like to be. As one columnist put it in Huffington Post, she wouldn’t get past the first round in a beauty pageant in this part of the world. This is Asia where fairness creams rule and women like to shield themselves from the sun. Yet, Nina won one of beauty industry’s most coveted titles – a smart young woman, very capable and very confident and we must applaud loud but wait, does it really matter that a smart woman, a woman of colour won Miss America title? Is it important for the women of today?
Beauty contests are not exactly what they used to be. They are no longer the measuring gauge for beauty, brains or position of women in contests such as these. We like to think we have made many strides in women’s rights but beauty contests still remind us that there is so much more to be achieved. Not that beauty contests are bad – they do give a platform for talented women to showcase themselves – but certain elements of beauty contests tend to cast a shadow on what has been achieved with much blood, sweat and tears.
I was watching the other day “Iron Jawed Angels” starring Hillary Swank, a brilliant movie that outlined the struggle of American women to win the right to vote. Swank who co-directed the movie starred as Alice Paul, the committed women’s rights activist who endures prison, virtual torture in being force-fed and many other obstacles in her pursuit of what we today have come to regard as basic human rights. From Alice Paul to Nina Davuluri is a long road, bumpy but remarkable. As women, we have had to fight for most of it and still do. For an example, women in India, where Nina hails from, are still fighting for the freedom to travel in public transport without facing fears of rape and molestation.
Beauty contests maybe a thing of the past and scorned by women’s rights activists but that’s not where our problems lie. There are real issues of discrimination, gender based violence, rape and incest, lack of economic empowerment, the list is long and worrisome. Sometimes beauty contests can be used as platforms to create awareness of the problems faced by the world’s women. Sometimes the power of beauty and fashion can be harnessed for good things too.
Let’s applaud Nina not only because she makes history as the pageant’s first Indian American winner – but also because she aspires to be a doctor and that is a good thing because she is a good role model for young women who are swayed by the latest trends be it in fashion or beauty. Let’s applaud Nina because she has gone through the suffering of anorexia and understands the pressures young women face in today’s times. Let’s be proud of a sister who has turned out not only to be beautiful but smart as well, her achievement on the stage in focus yet also standing tall and proud, a woman of our times.