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Beauty Pageants Sell Sexual Availability, Not Natural-Born Beauty

Apr 9, 2012 at 12:40 PM Chime in now

Jenna Talackova, a contestant in the Miss Universe Canada competition, was kicked out of the finals a few days ago for allegedly not meeting the requirements to compete. The requirement in question, according to Ms. Talackova, is her sex: she was born a man, identified herself as a female from a young age, and then underwent hormone therapy and surgery in her early 20s to become a woman. Her government-issued ID – including her driver’s license and passport – identify her as a woman.

When news broke of the decision by Miss Universe Canada officials to disqualify her from the competition, response was swift: over 30,000 people signed an online petition to have her reinstated, and even Donald Trump, the owner of Miss Universe, was pulled in. Earlier this week, a spokesperson for Mr. Trump gave a statement that Ms. Talackova is free to compete in the 2012 Miss Canada Universe pageant regardless of her sex at birth, as long as she meet Canada’s standards for legal gender recognition.

While this is being regarded as both a personal and political win, Ms. Talackova is now calling for a change to Miss Universe policy that would remove the “natural gender” requirement permanently and enable transgender people to compete in future contests.

Which leads to the question: does being born a natural woman matter in a beauty pageant? Some have argued that pageants are like sports: a competition based on natural assets and abilities. This certainly makes a lot of sense, until you consider the hair extensions, hair dye, false eyelashes and cosmetics that contestants wear during and before the competition, as well as any surgical enhancements that may have taken place. If pageants are intended to judge natural beauty, they failed at that long ago.  

Consider this: Pageants like Miss Universe succeed as high-profile businesses in the trade of beauty and sexual attraction. The eligibility requirements for Miss Universe are pretty straightforward: women, 18 -27 years old, who have never been married, given birth to or parented a child. Miss Universe is not simply trying to establish who the prettiest woman in the world is; it is making money off the sexual desirability of women who are young, pretty and available.

Miss Universe – like most traditional beauty pageants – is banking on its contestants’ appeal to heterosexual men. While it is safe to assume that many heterosexual men won’t give a hoot about the previous gender of a contestant, it is also fair to assume that there are some who will.

Miss Universe is a business and must make its decisions based on its strategy and goals. As long as their criteria about natural sex, age and marital status conform to the laws of the land, their strategy around who to include is their prerogative.
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