Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Beauty Queens...

Last Monday, BBC3 showed Sasha: Beauty Queen at 11. The main focus of the program was an eleven year old school girl from Burnley who wanted to become a model. Her mother was obsessed with the idea and would cover her daughter’s face with make-up and take her on fashion shoots where the girl would be constantly told that she looks older then eleven. Sasha’s mother wanted her to be successful in the beauty pageants held in America, so they packed their bags and headed over there so that Sasha’s mother could live her dream of becoming a beauty queen vicariously through her daughter.

The lack of self-worth which Sasha had as a female was palpable. When asked to describe herself in three words, her reply was ‘pretty’, ‘blonde’, and ‘dumb’. She went to great lengths to explain that she was ‘stupid’, explaining that her father often told her that was the case as her brother was better than her at maths. She said that she did not need to have brains as she had her looks, and that would enable her to get a “fit” boyfriend – “ugly” girls get “sweaty” boyfriends with bottle-bottom glasses. Nowhere did she say what kind of personality she wanted a prospective boyfriend to have, or how she would expect him to treat her (she also didn’t seem to be aware that ALL men sweat). Seemingly, the only criterion she was interested in was that he be good-looking. Considering her answer to the question ‘what do want to achieve in the future?’ consisted of the answer ‘I want to be famous’, and her answer to the question ‘why?’ was ‘I want to be on tv’, it is no wonder that she has no aspirations to be clever (and no wonder that she claimed her idol to be Jordon) – to be a celebrity these days you don’t actually have to be good at anything. In fact, it’s preferential if you do something extremely stupid – bad news is interested, good news is not.

Sasha’s mother was adamant that her daughter practice her beauty pageant ‘talent’ routines at every possible moment – in restaurants, at the bus-station, at the airport – on the grounds that “a guy” might see her and think she has talent and thus push her on her way to stardom. The truth comes out – Sasha’s appearance is cultivated solely for the eyes of men. At eleven years old the girl is being taught that for a woman to be successful in life she must be pretty, that that is her most important asset. And Sasha is seemingly powerless to stop it as her mother is so unbelievably obsessed with her being ‘successful’ in this way. In this case, the girl is being objectified by her mother, as well as by men, because her mother is looking at her from the perspective that a man would take.

Sasha explains to the viewer that school is about wearing make-up and looking good. Apparently, all girls wear make-up at school (funny assumption that, considering I never did). This reminds me of this blog where the ‘back to school’ edition of Seventeen magazine is analysed – the suggestion in the magazine is that with make-up, girls cultivate the appearance that they are serious about school (apparently, grades and doing the actual work are not good enough). Women everywhere are told that they should turn themselves into an ‘artform’ – a mainstream ‘artform’, of course, considering Goths who put effort into painting their faces in a way that confronts the mainstream often get attacked in the streets. It is amusing how notions of beauty in England have changed over time – in the early eighteenth century, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu claimed that she did not like the appearance of women in France because their faces are covered in make-up. She much preferred looking upon an “unsullied complexion” (Montagu, Turkish Embassy Letters (London: Virago Press, 1994). p. 161). Of course, she was fully aware that the impression which a woman gave to those in her company was extremely important (and is still considered so), but she put more emphasis on the refinements that ‘natural beauty’ afforded (unfortunately, as long as women ‘naturally’ resembled the artistic renditions of the Graces (Montagu, Turkish Embassy Letters. p. 59 – The Graces, in Greek mythology were the daughters of Zeus), so beauty, for her, was a class concept, and also an ironic one).

Sasha was treated, in essence, as the property of her parents. She had no privacy – her father, for example, put the camcorder over the top of the changing cubicle whilst she was trying on a dress, even though the fact that she’d gone in there alone to try on the dress suggested that she wanted some privacy – and whenever she tried to say something whilst in the company of her mother the latter would always interrupt and do the talking for her (Sasha’s mother actually threatened her with a grounding if she didn’t get accepted into a modelling agency they were visiting, because it would apparently be her fault for not smiling enough). Never have I seen a more striking example of a mother living vicariously through her daughter. What was striking was how when they were at the ‘beauty pageant’ in America, there were only three boys competing in the male division, suggesting that it is thought that boys perhaps have better things to do than singing off-key in a ‘talent’ competition and walking ‘perfectly’ across the stage in an outfit styled for someone twice their age. And to be honest, the boys who were competing looked extremely uncomfortable. But that was allowed. What was not allowed was for any of the girls to look uncomfortable, because the pageant was deemed to be their calling in life and to look uncomfortable would be a sign of failure.

No comments: