WOMEN'S CLOTHES have always managed to be in the news for some reason or the other. If the French are fighting tooth and nail against the burqa, just across the Channel, the English have started campaigning against the bikini.
Two pageants, Miss England and Miss Great Britain made some radical changes to get rid of the bikini. While earlier this year, Miss England axed its swimwear round and replaced it with a sports activity round, Miss Great Britain recently banned the two-piece bikini in their pageant. The reason? The pageant is all about a good all-round person rather than a flawless pin-up, says Former Miss England, lance corporal Katrina Hodge (aka Combat Barbie).
And at Miss Great Britain, a spokesperson reportedly said, "The contest used to be run by men wanting to see young virginal girls they could fantasise about." Now with a new owner, things seem to be changing. They have even allowed single mothers to participate.
THE FITNESS ISSUE
BACK HOME in India, we got some mixed reactions. Former beauty queens have welcomed the single mother move, but aren't against the swimwear round. "I don't think the round is meant for men. Fitness is an important factor in all such pageants and you can't really judge a woman's fitness while she is wearing a gown. Yes, if they have a sports activity round, they can judge the contestants.
You can't somehow rule out the fitness factor in a beauty pageant," says former Miss India Gul Panag.
But even if they have a sports activity round for fitness, the contestants might be at a loss when they have to compete in another international pageant such as Miss World. "It would be a disadvantage for girls who have qualified for Miss World, says former Miss World, Diana Hayden. The swimsuit round is more about being classy than vulgar. "Everything boils down to one thing - and that is the way a woman is projected. Women are projected in a very classy manner in these pageants and it doesn't look cheap at all," she says. A skimpily dressed woman will look obscene in a badly made movie, and beautiful in a classy film, she argues.
"These contests are not for satiating male appetite for skimpily dressed girls - we have come a long way from that. These pageants are run by respected families and are watched by families,â€ she says. It was a family show enjoyed by all - not just dads, uncles and grandpas. Moms, aunties and grandmas too were hooked to their seats when high-heeled girls walked the ramp and talked about feeding poor children in Africa.
But over the years, beauty pageants seem to have become just a stepping stone for girls to get into showbiz, complains Ira Trivedi.
HAPPY TO SEE IT GO
TRIVEDI, who participated in Femina Miss India in 2004 but didn't make it and wrote the book, What Would You Do to Save the World?: Confessions of a Could-Have-Been Beauty Queen, is quite happy with the move. "Beauty pageants have been designed for male eyes only. Instead of creating goodwill ambassadors they are creating sex symbols," says Trivedi.
The past decade has certainly seen almost all beauty queens entering showbiz - even the ones who managed an entry into Bollywood talked about "world peace" and role models such as Mother Teresa at the pageants. Trivedi, however, feels they could have been the "breeding ground for goodwill ambassadors" instead. "I think it is a good step and the rest of the world should follow suit," she says.
For Ira, who did not have a modelling or acting background, the swimsuit round was quite nerve-wracking. "Getting judged by people while you're so skimpily dressed can be pretty uncomfortable," she says. The argument is unlikely to die down very easily.