Friday, June 12, 2009

Globalization of Beauty

At dinner tonight, N and I somehow got onto the great gossip wagon which is the now former Miss California, Carrie Prejean. I have no desire to pursue that matter further; in fact, I try to avoid conversations on that entirely. However, it reminded me of something I noticed a couple years ago when watching some part of the Miss Universe Pageant. Here is a video of the announcement of the semifinalists for Miss Universe 2007.

What's interesting to me about this is how dang similar everyone looks. Miss Tanzania actually looks somewhat different, but everyone else kind of blends together. The contestant can be from Southern Africa (Angola), Southern Asia (India), East Asia (Japan and Korea), South America (Nicaragua, Brazil, Venezuela, etc.), or North America (USA), and they still have a light brown skin, dark brown to black hair, slightly curly about to the shoulder blades, and of course that super skinny body that's popular now. It wasn't always like this. Here's the announcement of semi-finalists from 1984:

If you watch this one (with Bob Barker!), Miss Germany doesn't look much like Miss Thailand who doesn't look much like Miss Guatemala who doesn't look much like Miss Philippines. There's blonde hair there, brown hair, black hair.... You get the idea.

You can actually look at different years all on YouTube from the 50s to the 00s, and there does seem to be this change in the last couple decades, if not further. If you look at the mid 90s, such as this from 1994, the contestants look more like each other than they did in 1984, but not as similar as they do in 2007.

I don't really know what this means or if it's good or bad. You can see it in a negative way as there seems little interest in 2007 in different sorts of looks, different ideas of beauty, and instead you have a sort of single beauty standard that's taken over around the globe that all must conform to. Women of light skin tones use bronzers and tanning beds to darken, while women of darker skin tones use lightening creams; women with straight hair curl, while women with very curly hair straighten....

At the same time, if there is one dominant beauty standard today, it's surely because of increased communication and cross-cultural awareness, which is generally positive. Moreover, some of the older videos deal in serious stereotypes of people. I am reminded of Alexandre Dumas, one of my favorite authors, who loved to dwell on the exact nature of each race and nationality, as if it was set in stone and never the twain shall meet.

Here are some fascinating videos from Miss Universe 1961. Each of the contestants comes out and gives a little intro, thanking the host country, America here, for their hospitality and inviting everyone to visit their home country. And, boy, are the stereotypes rampant. In part 3, Miss Scotland comes out and explains that the Scots are a frugal race. Miss Wales walks in to the strains of Rule Britannia, and I almost spit lemonade all over my computer for the music they played for Miss Korea with the way they butchered her name. (By the way, I don't speak Korean at all, but her Korean sounds to my uneducated ear very different from what I think I hear from my friends and classmates in standard Seoul dialect. Anyone know if this is this some different dialect of Korean?)

Anyway, I look forward to your comments on any of this.

If you want to view some more Miss Universe pageants through the decades, here we go with:
And, wow, 1954, is really interesting in the way the whole thing is presented...


moonrat said...

also, in 1984, the contestants are wearing clothing.

yeah, i read an awesome book about beauty universalization (or, basically, what is tantamount to the standardization of white american beauty because america generates most global media). it has a lot of terrible implications.

Chris Eldin said...

There is no higher standard of beauty than a furry-faced paca.

EBeth said...

That was pretty scary. Stepford beauty queens