Since the introduction of the Miss India beauty pageant in the 20th century, it has been put on blast for its portrayal of the female image. While people in India have issues with many aspects of this competition, the Miss India event that is attacked the most is the swimsuit event.
The event is as simple as it sounds; the women put on their heels and a bikini, then proceed to walk around the stage for the judges. Many conservatives across the globe agree that this event, regardless in which pageant, induces the sexualization of women; they argue that women should not be judged for the appearance of their bodies.
For the Indian traditionalists, the argument remains the same: The Miss India beauty pageant sexualizes women. In their eyes, the poor pageant queens are forced to wear a bikini and expose themselves to an audience of gawkers. Last time I checked, no one was forcing two pieces of cloth onto a women’s body. These pageant contestants know what they are getting themselves into; they freely (shocking to imagine women having the freedom to do anything, I know) put on their swimsuit and confidently wear it in front of the crowd.
Those opposed to the beauty pageant in India abhor the competition because they believe that the women competing against one another have neither modesty nor morals, two very important attributes for a traditional Indian woman to have; these people do not understand how a woman can freely bare her skin without feeling shame.
To those people I say (in the nicest of ways): build a bridge and get over it.
Why should’t women be able to show off their bodies? Why shouldn’t women be applauded for their confidence instead of being shamed for it?As Queen Bey once said, “if you got it, flaunt it.”
By assuming that a woman should automatically feel shame for exposing her body for all to see, and that she should fear the sexualized images her bare skin may bring to the audience’s mind, the pageant opponents become the ones who sexualize the women. Assumptions such as these must be quelled, for they take away from the rights of every woman to express herself on stage.
If these Miss India pageant women are criticized for feeling confident and beautiful in a bikini, then what message is this sending to young women across India? Although the swimsuit event is judged by fitness of the women’s bodies in the pageant, removing it from the pageant altogether would be influencing females everywhere to feel ashamed of their bodies. Yes, the women who participate in the Miss India pageant have incredibly fit bodies; but, that does not mean that fit bodies are the only beautiful bodies. In fact, every body is beautiful. The sooner young girls learn this, the healthier they will become physically and mentally. This is the first step to providing a modern image of women to traditionalists in India.
As Huma Ahmed-Ghosh, a professor of Women’s Studies, clearly explains in her article, denying women the freedom to show off their bodies in the pageant would also be detrimental to developing the “modern” Indian woman by giving the patriarchy all the power. She explains that eliminating the swimsuit competition “enables the patriarchy to locate and define women within an acceptable culture that legitimates and perpetuates power differentials between the genders.” Ahmed-Ghosh is completely right; this form of gender inequality, since men are not criticized for skin exposure, is detrimental to the development of Indian society.
As a result of this gender inequality, women have always been afraid of the consequences resulting from “indecent exposure” (AKA showing the tiniest sliver of skin). However, the real fear has been embedded in the patriarchy; it despises the idea of women having the freedom to express themselves in fear that these women may achieve the same rights as men. Until this ridiculous fear is subsided, India cannot become a modern nation. Of course even the most developed of countries, including the United States of America, show inequalities in the treatment of men and women. Still, in these countries, women are not as oppressed as they are in third world countries such as India.
There is an incredible amount of change that must happen in India, including modernization in many more areas than just gender inequality. Relinquishing the stigma of the Miss India pageant swimsuit event is a small, yet integral, step towards a more modernized society.
For an astonishing amount of years, women all over the world were told to cover up their bodies, to show modesty in dress. However, as civilization progresses, the taboo of showing too much skin transgresses unwritten societal laws. In order to achieve a modern India, citizens must abandon their idea of a traditional Indian women as the embodiment of modesty and purity. They must accept the fact that the modern woman is able to make her own decisions regarding her body, and that if she chooses to showcase it to myriad people, then so be it. The swimsuit portion of the Miss India pageant simply cannot be eliminated from the competition, for if it is, this will be a big step towards the regression of Indian society.