The pictures, which were shot by photographer Fadil Berisha in Las Vegas, feature several of the Miss Universe hopefuls in bikini bottoms and paint—nothing else. Earlier this year, Miss USA contestants (which operates under the Miss Universe organization) were pictured on the official website lounging around in bed with tousled hair and smudged eye makeup. At the time, people were just as bothered by the sex, sex, sex! overtones, though that hardly seemed to matter, seeing as the photos stayed up and the pageant went along as planned.
And yet, here we are again. The Miss Universe pageant is making the news for some salacious photos (which only "members" can view). Contestants describe the experience as "liberating," and "artistic." Rima Fakih, Miss USA, chose to pose topless, but she only showed the back, as to not "disappoint many people." If the girls are okay with it, who really cares? Other pageant people, according to Fox News:
"It's alarming that this has been turned into a playboy-esque masquerade," said Angie Meyer, who has worked closely with the Miss USA contestants and the organization in past years. "When you bring nudity into the equation, the pageant no longer becomes about the entire package of brains and beauty. Rather, the focus shifts to body image. The notion that ‘beauty' embodies absolute physical perfection is a frightening slippery slope, and quite dangerous for young women around the world to adhere to."
It's interesting to hear someone who is so right, yet so, so wrong. The notion that beauty is equal to physical perfection is damaging, but the idea that pageants were rewarding an "entire package" is just laughable. Furthermore, even if they were counting charisma, intelligence, and beauty equally, the fact that physicality is included at all in the judging process is a problem in and of itself. I've known plenty of pageant-defenders who have examples of such-and-such friend who was actually really smart and she paid her way through college by doing pageants and so really they're actually quite helpful and good for women. Which is bullshit. Beauty is right there in the name. Smart women may participate, but the end result—placing more emphasis on a woman's appearance than her talents, rewarding girls for fitting into a predefined and extremely narrow notion of attractiveness, based almost entirely on the male gaze—isn't good for anyone. Meyer is correct in saying that the topless photos show a frightening emphasis on the "perfect" body, but that was there all along. These pictures don't ruin the reputation of the pageant—they help further reveal the damaging traits that make contests like this one so problematic.