What is beauty? Who is beautiful? The answers will vary; they will be full of abstractions and absurdities. Above all, it sounds bizarre to ask such self-centered questions in this mundane world where figure, shape, and size define beauty. Mainly, today’s materialistic people run after cosmetic beauty, exhibited through pageants.
The whole world has been seeing a rise in the number of beauty pageants, with many such contests happening in a small country like Nepal as well. The world seems to be enjoying this cosmetic culture of which beauty contests form a part. The number of participants, organizers and titles on offer is increasing day by day, pointing at a growing popularity of such contests.
The appreciation of beauty goes a long way back.
Per scriptures, Heaven or Indra Lok (the kingdom of Indra) is where such contests used to take place with the angels competing to win the hearts of Indra and his men. The holy books describe Indra Lok as the world of angels and righteous souls. Therefore, people living on Earth desire to lead their posthumous lives there.
In contests at his kingdom, Indra would select the angels for the awards on the basis of criteria like their dancing skills, walking and other artistic skills, providing gems and jewelry to the best performers. These books point at Indra’s fondness for angels. In fact, heaven is all about angels and beauty, displayed through the angels’ dances and other artistic skills.
Today’s beauty contests resemble Indra’s assembly or Indra Sabha, where Indra and his near and dear ones, seated comfortably on the front-row, watch the performance of an angel (Pari).
The assembly is no different from a modern-day beauty pageant, where the organizers and the judges, presiding over the show, select the top contestants.
The sole purpose of these modern beauty shows is to entertain the guests and the judges like in the Indra Sabha. The contestants have to win the judges’ hearts whether it’s in Indra Lok or in modern pageants. Dance skills, ramp walk, speech delivery and vital stats matter the most in both fora. In Indra’s realm, the angels were said to be very attractive. They would dance, act, and show other artistic skills to win awards from Indra, including precious gems and jewelry. Modern beauty shows are no different, with the participants compared with the angels of heaven. Like in Indra Sabha, winners get jewelry and cash as awards.
Most of the beauty contests are city-centric and held at star hotels, where a majority of judges and the audience are men, as in Indra Lok. Liquor, beauty, and boldness are the glittering elements of such shows. Despite a dominant presence of men in the jury, most of the pageants are for girls. These men watch the shows as if they were the Indra of modern times. Their body language, gestures and the way they ask questions to the contestants show that they consider themselves no less than Indra himself, while the contestants present themselves as if they were some angels.
The organizers act as if they have established a new trend in the beauty world, though they actually are following in the footsteps of Indra, knowingly or unknowingly. Going beyond the glitter, it’s not difficult to find several flaws in such programs. The contestant must have a fair complexion, toned figure, and good height to participate in a beauty contest, which makes it clear that appearance is what matters the most. A few years ago, one of the judges of Miss Nepal, Rashmi Gurung Sharma, came down heavily on the contestant for not applying makeup. Also notable is the fact that Nikita Chandak and Sugarika KC face lots of criticism for their complexions, pointing at a shallow notion of beauty.
In our context, the organizers set the criteria for beauty. There are certain eligibility criteria for participation in a beauty contest. How can a judge do justice to a contestant merely by going after her appearance? Most importantly, who gives you the authority to judge on the basis of tone and figure and reject chubbiness? In fact, this is the biggest flaw of these so-called beauty pageants.
The judges would do well to remember that different communities have different notions of beauty. Actually, beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder. For instance, Karishma, Rekha and Namrata might be called the most beautiful women in Nepal, but different notions of beauty apply in Africa, where thick lips and a dark complexion are among the symbols of beauty. So, it’s vain to tag somebody as beautiful. The physical appearance—height, weight, smile—can be no measure of beauty or caliber.
These features do not form a sound basis for judgment. Rather, they are manmade and subjective elements that should be done away with. There are many examples to prove that physical appearance does not matter much. Socrates was not handsome, Stephen Hawking and Jhamak Ghimire cannot be called good-looking, going by the strict criteria of beauty contests. But their contribution to their respective fields is immense. These examples make it clear that character is more important than physical appearance. These false assumptions and notions of beauty must be rectified as soon as possible. Otherwise, the beauty of Indra Lok and the Earth will be for a particular profit-making mob.
Lastly, we can’t ignore the dark side of beauty pageants. Cases of sexual harassment against contestants taking part in such shows are coming to light. One of the notorious organizers, Manoj Jaisi, was imprisoned on a sexual harassment case. So, the state should monitor these contests seriously and the people should also be aware of the ugly aspect of the shows.