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Miss Universe crown to fit Mrs and mom heads too

Now, perhaps in response to gender sensitivity, everyday feminism and sheer common sense, the ban on moms and Mrs has been lifted for the Miss Universe title from 2023.

August 27, 2022 / 11:20 AM IST
Coronations will still involve rigorous scrutiny of vital stats and sparkly repartee, of two-dimensional waistlines and perfect hairdos.(Representational image: Nathan McGregor via Unsplash)

Coronations will still involve rigorous scrutiny of vital stats and sparkly repartee, of two-dimensional waistlines and perfect hairdos.(Representational image: Nathan McGregor via Unsplash)

For years – over seven decades to be precise – marriage and maternity were a strict no-no when it came to women participating in beauty contests. That patriarchal touch when it came to the pretty was very much par for the course in those days. There was a marriageable age and there was an age that women got left on the shelf. The clock ticked for women like it never did for men!

From nubile nymphets they went to being an old maid in one shot on a particular birthday. They grew invisible and irrelevant right before society’s eyes the minute they turned 30 or had a baby, whichever came first.

Beauty contests reflected this ageist mindset by putting barcodes on who could enter; eligibility was a matter of dewy youth. Labour pains or a C section were definitely not a part of that. From the bikini round to the ballgown one, bachelor status was mandatory.

And now, perhaps in response to gender sensitivity, everyday feminism and sheer common sense, the ban on moms and Mrs has been lifted for the Miss Universe title from next year onwards. You can have as many husbands and kids as you like, but if you are between 18 and 28 years of age, then come apply! The rules they are a-changin’ – marital and parental status of contestants will no longer be a barrier.

The strict age compartmentalisation accorded to women underlines the myth that they are at their best during the premarital days, beauty supposed to peak somewhere between teenage and honeymoon. The implicit cliché was that women ‘lost their looks’ once they ‘settled down’.

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In the caste system thus in place, there were separate beauty contests for married women, and the title used the prefix of ‘Mrs’. So that Mrs Kochi, Mrs Chandigarh and Mrs Nashik can meet for a cup of tea as serious, mature women who know about the best detergents and carpet stain removers.

To treat singlehood like a virtue or vice is a dated concept. ‘We all believe that women should have agency over their lives and that a human's personal decisions should not be a barrier to their success,’ is what the pageant people reportedly said in their memo. Really this rule should have been revised ages ago – but better late than never.

And this is what Andrea Meza, Miss Universe 2020, had to say: ‘It was about time pageants changed and opened up to women with families. There are a lot of women that got married young or had kids in their early 20s and they always wanted to participate in Miss Universe but couldn't because of the rules.’

The change in rule not only reflects a sudden understanding of general gender imbalances but also ushers the pageant into the future where private lives are just that, private. Coronations will still involve rigorous scrutiny of vital stats and sparkly repartee, of two-dimensional waistlines and perfect hairdos, but at least all women will be treated equally irrespective of their wife-ing or mothering.
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is the co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.
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