Earlier this week, all of Lebanon had its eyes glued to television screens as the new Miss Lebanon was announced in a grand ceremony held in Beirut. Beaming to the crowds in a ruffled pink gown that perfectly fits in with the season’s Barbiecore obsession, 20-year-old Yasmina Zaytoun accepted her crown to the applause of thousands of fans and well-wishers, and wasted no time in sharing her joy on her social media page, which is gaining more followers by the minute. “I did it!” she shared on Instagram, with a series of picture-perfect shots of her big moment.
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While well-wishers including jury member Karen Wazen, and pageant winners of the past Rahaf Abdallah (Miss Lebanon 2010) and Rima Fakih Slaiby (Miss USA 2010) were quick to congratulate Zaytoun, the big win also sparked a slew of questions online, voicing the need and relevance of pageants in today’s world. In an era where women are fighting for autonomy over their own bodies, scaling the highest mountains on the planet, and flying out to space, does it really matter who wins the title of Beauty Queen?
“When I heard about Miss Lebanon, before I judged it, I watched it,” says Lebanese designer Dima Ayad, who has championed size-inclusive fashion in the region, and was among the first individuals to share her reaction to the pageant show on social media this week. “I was horrified to say the least. Contestants’ weight, height, and all body structures were out there for the world to see… one of the highest viewed live events Lebanon has watched in a long time.”
In response to the showcase, Ayad shared a question with her 51.5k followers: “What defines a Miss anywhere? Her looks? A question she doesn’t know how to answer? Or her weight objectified by millions of people let alone children watching? What makes a Miss of any country valuable to society?” As predicted, the responses she received ranged from shared outrage (“My daughter asked me how much weight she needs to lose to make it to Miss Lebanon,” one answer claimed), to a variety of shamers. “We’ve always been a nation obsessed with bodies. Letting a 10-year-old think that being 5’11 [and] weighing 45kg and thinking it’s normal is a horror story. The real question remains, what is the main objective in our society today to have a beauty pageant? What role does it serve? How does one look at that and think they are adding value to society, and if someone never made it, what happens to confidence?”
That being said, pageants across the globe have long claimed to be advocates of spotlighting women on a mission to uplift communities. Slowly and steadily, changes have been made to balance the scales between surface beauty, and what lies beneath. In 2014, Miss World officially cut out its swimsuit round, with Julia Morley, the contest’s chairwoman at the time stating, “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… We don’t want to just make them feel like they are walking bodies.”
Today, the women who walk away with the crown are often those who don’t mind rolling their sleeves up to make a change. While Yasmina Zaytoun, a journalism student at Notre Dame University Louaize, hosts an educational chat show on Instagram, current Miss Universe Harnaaz Sandhu has been using her platform to increase awareness on menstrual equality, and help women in India access low cost, sustainable menstrual hygiene products.
“The same way that almost everything changes, and evolves with time, so does the world of pageantry,” observes Maya Reaidy, Miss Universe Lebanon 2018-2021—and certified pharmacist. “My own experience as Miss Lebanon opened a lot of opportunities, and doors that would have otherwise been not only shut, but much harder to open. I met a lot of very influential people that helped me deliver my voice to a much larger audience. I also learned a lot from their respective expertise. Throughout the first year of my reign I mainly focused to work on inspiring and teaching Lebanese women about their present legal rights. In order to know what to fight and push for, you must know what rights you have in store in the first place. This in turn empowers women’s mentality to fight for other rights, such as the legal right for Lebanese women to pass on their nationality to their own children.” As Reaidy passed her crown on to Zaytoun, she also bestowed upon her the power to carry these efforts forward. “The importance that beauty queens receive, and the way they in turn impact the world is the essence of ‘beauty’ we find in today’s pageant environment. In my opinion, the definition of beauty is finding strength in yourself to better impact the world around you. The fact that we are measuring beauty nowadays based on a powerful presence, and impactful message deliverance, is truly beautiful.”
While the debate on pageant culture continues to unravel on Twitter, Instagram DMs and Facebook comments alike, one thing is for sure—whether you love it or hate it, the power of the crown continues to have watchers transfixed year after year, be it for its “aspirational” gloss, or just for the sake of nostalgia. As the world continues to open its eyes to body positivity and a more inclusive, kinder approach to beauty, the hope remains that Miss World and Miss Universe circuits use their far-reaching appeal to empower audiences, offering up role models who, in the midst of twirls in sparkling evening gowns, prove that women really can change the world, regardless of size, color, or even nationality.