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Date Posted: 17:32:19 12/16/14 Tue
In 1951, 26 women dressed themselves in bikinis and floated down the River Thames on a barge—at least one was wearing a suit made entirely of spotted mink. It was a publicity stunt fabricated by an enterprising man named Eric Morley, as an attempt to raise both money and morale following the devastation of World War II. When the press heard that the most beautiful women in the world had gathered in their swimwear—something completely unheard of at that time in England—they flocked to witness such an extravaganza and the Miss World competition was born.
Last night, the 64th Miss World, Rolene Strauss of South Africa, was crowned winner. While she is undoubtedly beautiful, as are each of the 121 international representatives she competed against, the pageant’s purpose is vastly different than it was during its inception 63 years ago. In addition to four optional competitions in talent, fashion runway, swimwear, and athletics, Strauss was judged on an in-depth interview, a service project dedicated to keeping girls in school, and her academic record. (To wit: the 22-year-old is a fourth-year medical student.) Miss Strauss will also hold a unique place in the history of the pageant: She will be the last winner to participate in a Miss World competition that includes a swimsuit competition. In a private meeting on Friday, Julia Morley, the chairwoman of Miss World (she assumed the role following the death of her husband in 2000), announced to the international directors that the bikini portion will be eliminated entirely beginning in 2015.
"I really don’t want—I don’t need to see women just walking up and down in bikinis. It doesn't do anything for the woman. And it doesn’t do anything for any of us," Mrs. Morley, 74, tells me as we watch a sing-off between Miss Malaysia and Miss Scotland during a dress rehearsal at the ICC Auditorium in the heart of London's Royal Docks. "I don’t care if someone has a bottom two inches bigger than someone else's. We are really not looking at her bottom. We are really listening to her speak."
For contrast, The Miss Universe pageant, which is owned by Donald Trump and was founded the year after Miss World, places a strong emphasis on the swimsuit element of the pageant. And, unlike Miss World, it does not include an interview or a service element. According to Mrs. Morley, following the death of her husband, Mr. Trump phoned: "So little lady," he asked. "Are you ready to throw in the towel?" It was then that she decided to take out a $5 million loan to keep the company afloat. "They are not little girls," she says. "This is what I want to get away from. This sort of 'cute' image. No offense to Mr. Trump."
There is an established belief, especially from the feminist left, that beauty pageants are a superficial and patriarchal forum. Following the first wave of the feminist revolution in 1968—when Bob Hope asked a swimsuit-clad pageant contest to turn around so he could observe her from behind—400 women protested outside the Miss America pageant holding signs with messages that read, 'Cattle parades are degrading to human beings,' and 'We are not beautiful, we are not ugly, we are angry.' The sentiment existed in Britain too, and from 1988 until 2011 (23 years), pageants were not broadcast on primetime television in the UK. For the last three years, however, the spectacles have resurfaced as a cultural juggernaut: Yesterday's Miss World competition was hosted by E! and was reportedly watched by over one billion viewers worldwide. Instead of throngs of protestors, the event was attended by a well-dressed and worldly crowd proudly waving their national flags.
"We’ve evolved so much. The real problem is trying to get Britain to understand they are 20 years behind when they think, 'Oh, bikinis. Oh, Miss World.' They never want to understand us because we are a good [agenda] item for their promotion,' Mrs. Morley says of a group she calls "women's libbers."
In 1951, the simple idea of putting a woman in a bikini on-stage shocked the world. And by the following year, two countries threatened to pull out of the pageant, citing immodesty. So the format changed: The swimsuit became a single segment of the competition, winners were crowned wearing a gown, and the interview portion of the event was introduced. In 1974, Mrs. Morley began Beauty with a Purpose, the service element of Miss World, which has helped to divert attention away from the external, physical side of the competition and raised over $1 billion for charity. In recent years, the bathing suit competition has been held prior to the finale, and judged privately by a modesty panel rather than during the live broadcast. Most women opt to wear one-piece suits or to wrap scarf around their waist. "We don't want to just make them feel like they are walking bodies, you know?" Mrs. Morley says.
In an age where seeing women's bodies in states of undress—on billboards, in commercials, in magazine ads—has become common place, it's nearly more shocking not to display women’s bodies on television than to reveal them. Mrs. Morley is making a pioneering move for the industry and one that may encourage others in the industry—and the public at large—to consider what modern pageantry could mean when the bikini, and the body, are removed from the equation of how women are judged.
Criteria in looking for next year's MISS WORLD PHILIPPINES:
2) Beauty With A Purpose
3) Beauty With Brains
4) Beauty Who Can Talk
5) Beauty Who Has Class
It's all about who can talk, talk, talk like MEGAN!!! Enough said!
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