Bucking the Trend
Our new writer, transman Wes Austin : “Why I can’t support Jenna Talackova’s bid for Miss Universe”
Miss Universe, Miss USA, Miss Photogenic, Miss Congeniality (and you thought it was just a movie?) - all around the globe there exists contests in which women fight to be crowned the winner. While all of them certainly include questions about goals, education, and passions it’s alarmingly evident that it’s still a beauty contest when you watch their swimsuit and evening-wear segments. Particularly in the televised pageants, there is, at best, a cursory examination of a contestant’s educational and humanitarian qualifications. In fact, when you look at the categories, there is one-thing that stands out, over two thirds of a contestant’s score is appearance driven.
The trans community as a whole struggles against society’s narrow definition of what is acceptable and what is beautiful. Particularly in North America, the trans community is very vocal in saying that acceptance of one’s gender does not depend on one’s body and how it looks. Why then, is our community rallying around and supporting the inclusion of a trans woman in a contest in which two thirds of the contestant’s score is appearance based; a contest that enforces a narrow and generally unobtainable standard of beauty.
From bleaching one’s hair to obtain that perfect platinum blonde shade all the way to the ravages of anorexia and bulimia, it’s hard to argue that society’s obsession with beauty and the attainment of it, for some women, has become an unhealthy and dangerous obsession. Reports in the news and scientific journals of girls as young as 11 years of age dieting in order to maintain an appearance they believe men want; the kind of appearance that leads to an average industry weight somewhere around 120lbs for a woman approximately 5’8”. While the Body Mass Index scale has been said to be of limited value, a woman who is of the weight and height stated here has a BMI scale of 18.2, a number that would mark her as underweight.
Why does this concern me; you may ask. After all, haven’t I walked away entirely from the pressures put on me by the beauty industry? Indeed, since my transition, I’ve been fortunate to be able to not have to worry if my makeup is on right, if my hair and breasts are displayed just so or if I’m slim enough to be noticed. That said, I still have female bodied, female identified friends who have to contend with the images they are bombarded with every day about what kind of appearance is acceptable from women and what is not. These kinds of standards are driven by the beauty industry and reinforced using beauty pageants. Standards that I believe are harmful to women of all biological configurations.
Historically the transgender community has fought not just for acceptance, but acceptance based on more than just physical appearance. Whether you have transwomen who should be accepted as women regardless of their physiology or transmen who should not be classed as lesbians simply because of how they dress, one of the primary messages the trans community wants heard is that looks aren’t everything. A message that seems to be the very antithesis of the appearance based message that these pageants promote.
While no one should be denied entry into something based solely on their birth sex, I have to wonder what kind of message our community is sending out when we blindly support the kind of activities in which looks are the chief reason for its existence.