The Politics of Beauty

I’m sure you can guess from the title of this post what I’ll be writing about. Yes, nothing other than the results of the Miss USA beauty pageant; not so much the winner of the contest, but the resultant overflowing of “support” from Arab/Muslim communities and the subtle sense of “you have overcome and achieved because of the tolerance and acceptance of the white man” from the rest of the media. Now, don’t get me wrong: I in no way, shape, or form desire or expect the respective communities to which Miss Fakih belongs to condemn her or call for head on a platter. Nor do I want the media to be aghast at the notion of a “foreigner” winning any type of award.

However, I would like to ask those people who are so full of rhetoric about how this is an achievement for their communities a few questions. I’d also like to tie in those questions against a backdrop of progressive American feminist thought that rejects utterly the concept of objectifying women as a positive step in a woman’s journey through life. Oddly enough though, when it comes to women of color, victory for a woman in the more “prestigious” beauty contests always seems to translate as a victory for that entire community of color. But, looking down the wide lane of history, how much of a victory for African America was it when Vanessa Williams won Miss USA 1986? Did African American women, let alone the community at large, make either modest or substantial inroads into mainstream society? I doubt it, and here’s why. So, if 10% of African American men between the age of 25-29 have been incarcerated for some period in their lives, and if more African Americans are in jail than in college, and if the number of African American men in jail has grown 5 times over what the numbers were in 1982, then how much of post-victory bounce did the African American community gain from the Miss USA contest? Well, that’s just the men, one might say. Ah, but I’d wager that what happens to men impacts the women and children much more than a crown placed on Vanessa Williams’s head.

If it sounds incongruent that I’m tying together beauty pageants wins with statistics pointing to the downtrodden-ness of the African American community, allow me to make a more explicit parallel. Today, Arabs and Muslims are seen in a most negative light. In a recent study, it was revealed that Islam is the third worst brand disaster in the world. Naturally, Islam is not the disaster all by itself–it’s how Muslims are perceived that impacts how Islam is thought of. Against this hopeless backdrop, please let us remember the results of the Gallup Poll released last year with respect to Muslims in America. As I wrote last year:

It reveals our incredible racial diversity (nobody in the Muslim American community should be surprised), our amazing levels of education (again, should not be a surprise) second only to Jewish Americans, and that our gender economic parity is unparalleled.

All the same, the crown of Miss USA appears to be the true stepping stone to success:

The others who were thrilled with the development included Wassim Mahfouz, Executive Director of the Lebanese American Heritage Club. He said: “Arab Americans will now look to Rima to carry the torch. She is one who embodies the confidence, ambition, determination, and commitment that we know our strong energetic community members have.”

I understand his position calls for him to make some sort of ebullient statement, but I have to assume that he means what he is saying. My question is simple: if Miss USA 1986 had zero positive impact on a much-maligned and abused community, realistically, how much of a positive impact will this victory have for Arab Americans? Won’t the next suicide bombing just wipe out the post-victory bounce faster than you can say “hell, no!”?

As for mainstream America thinking that this is some sort of real victory, allow me to say, What the hell? For the last fifty years, you’ve been banging on about how a woman has no business being judged by the merits of her face and body, how that reduces women to being sex objects. Yet, here you all are, saying that a woman being objectified is a platform of achievement. Do Muslims, nay, people of color come with different standards? When white American females are thrust into the spotlight on merits of their beauty, they are sex objects, but the rest of the world’s female population, particularly Muslim women, well…covering up and pursuing a brain-based field of occupation are actually our forms of disempowerment! And speaking of the politics of beauty, let us not forget how relentlessly Mrs. Sarah Palin, quitting Governor of Alaska, was derided for her beauty pageant past. Her beauty pageant victories were seen as an indictment on the capabilities of her brain.

With regards to the Muslim population of this country seeing this as some true victory that has “helped” increase the Google searches for Islam, can I just ask, what brand of hash are you guys smoking? Ok, so they are googling Islam with a different image in mind. And then what? They’ll  a) see that she does not pretend to represent Islam, thus b) making her relationship to Islam irrelevant and c) go back to reassociating Islam with less beautiful things with the “knowledge” that, well she’s not a good Muslim* anyway–she’s a good American! Because good Muslim = bad American and bad Muslim = good American.

Now, if this leads to, twenty-five years from now, a Muslim American being elected President, I might eat back my words. But only if there is a consistent upward trajectory in how Muslims in this country are viewed and treated. Objectification is not, in my mind, a great start.

And who was the idiot who decided that ridiculously beautiful people can be judged to more or less beautiful than each other, when really they are all pretty much equal in terms of beauty?

*That Miss Fakih is a good or bad Muslim is not a judgment that I am advocating.

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2 Responses to The Politics of Beauty

  1. Mehreen says:

    It’s about time the Muslim community should wake up and unite against the horrors around them. That’s all I can say. We’re emotional people, easily pleased, easily infuriated. That has and will damage us in the long run.

    Wake up people!

  2. Pingback: Indigo Jo Blogs — Miss USA, Muslim role models and the state of our blogging community

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