A Nation’s Beauty on Display

Miss Universe Thailand 2018 - New Naratif

On Monday, 17 December 2018, the most beautiful woman in the Universe will be crowned. Well, the most beautiful woman on Earth, since there has yet to be a non-Earth contestant. But if aliens did (or do?) tune in, what would they think about the ritual of the beauty pageant? What does trying to choose the “most beautiful woman in the world”, a highly charged and problematic endeavour, say about us?

While some might dismiss beauty pageants as frivolous, scholars have studied beauty pageants and how race, idealised femininity and culture intersect on the pageant stage. The early Miss America pageants, the precursor of today’s contemporary pageants, stipulated that contestants had to be “of the white race” until 1940. Today’s pageants, though, have thankfully come a long way from their racist past; the Miss Universe crown has gone to women outside of the Western hemisphere—while also throwing up new segments for followers to obsess over.

The national costume segment

The international dimension of the Miss Universe pageant has resulted in one of the most fascinating aspects of the competition: the national costume segment. If the choice of Miss Universe reveals what we think about beauty, then the national costumes are a unique manifestation of nationalism.

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