Last night I was walking by a bar with some friends when I noticed that the Miss Universe contest was on a TV. Miss Vietnam was standing next to the show’s emcee, and I wondered out loud how anticlimactic it must be to go through so many pageants only to arrive at the final result of being quizzed by Steve Harvey.
I also voiced my dislike for the tradition of beauty pageants. There’s not a whole lot to defend there – put on as much lipstick (adding the gloss of social impact) as you want, it’s still a misogynistic pig of a tradition (see: swimsuit competitions). You don’t have to be an iconoclastic gender studies student to notice this. Even a conservative person should be able to see that women shouldn’t be paraded around quite like that.
In further evidence that the universe has a sense of humor, today I happened to be at the very airport gate of Miss Puerto Rico’s arrival back to San Juan.
People were gathered around, holding up their phone cameras, clapping, cheering, and chanting as a lovely young woman (probably hoping for a bit of a break from the publicity) stepped off the jetway. They treated her like royalty, following in her train as she walked off to her next destination. Given that she was the runner-up to Miss Universe, this is understandable.
And all my anti-pageant talk, I was enchanted, too. I remembered why beauty queens exist.
Miss Puerto Rico was the closest thing many Puerto Ricans may have ever felt to having royalty. Just as Britain’s royal family once served as a sort of goalpost for people in the United Kingdom, so Miss Puerto Rico (on a small scale) is playing that out for the people of her island.
Here was a woman who worked very hard to represent the highest standards of physical beauty along with the highest standards of behavior. Despite being famous and beautiful, she wasn’t haughty: she graciously smiled and waved at all of the riff-raff (including me) who watched her come off that plane. There was a service and duty (you might call it “noblesse oblige”) in her behavior that I liked. I think she knew that to be Miss Puerto Rico meant turning her natural gifts toward the good of others and the good of her island.
I still don’t like pageants. But I do know that we all need people we can look up to, values we can aspire to, and models of the highest standards of ethics *and* aesthetics (because looks matter, too). We all have the potential to be good rulers – kings and queens – within our own parts of the world, and sometimes it takes a king or queen or beauty queen to remind us of that truth.