Miss World contest

Jo Robinson recalls the excitement she felt at the women’s liberation protest against the Miss World competition in 1970. The protestors aimed to create as much disruption as possible in order to gain maximum publicity for their cause.

 

What was Miss World and why did feminists disagree with it?

The Miss World beauty pageant began in the UK in 1951. From 1959 until the 1980s it was backed by multi-national companies, broadcast by the BBC and watched by all the family. Women from all over the world competed within their countries, then came together in London to battle it out in a variety of different costumes to be crowned the most beautiful woman in the world.

Feminists found the idea of women being judged by how they looked to be insulting and undermining. They organised the protest in 1970 to challenge the assumptions behind the show, its connections with big business, and the association between the event compère, Bob Hope, and the American intervention in Vietnam. Hope had paid several visits to entertain the troops in Vietnam. The WLM slogan was ‘We’re not beautiful, we’re not ugly, we’re angry!’ The protestors were not attacking the women taking part in the contest, but rather the organisers and the press who publicised it.

You can find out more about other WLM campaigns and protests in Activism.

Jennifer Hosten, who won the 1970 Miss World competition, has subsequently explained that the competition offered her opportunities to travel, study and work that, as a black woman from Grenada, she might otherwise not have had.

What happened next?

Miss World still takes place but the BBC stopped broadcasting the event in the 1980s. Miss England also exists and the contest sends its winners to Miss World each year. Beauty pageants also take place all over the world: Miss Universe, Miss Earth, Miss America, Miss Teen America are just a few examples. There are also hundreds of pageants for children in which girls as young as four or five are dressed up in fancy costumes and have their hair and make-up done. Many people feel this contributes to the over-sexualisation of children. Several universities also run beauty pageants. In London the 2010 Miss London University attracted condemnation from people who took inspiration from the 1970 protests.

The power of social media

Social networking sites can also perpetuate the emphasis on physical appearance among young people. An early example called Facemash asked students to rate their fellow female students’ attractiveness. Currently Facebook hosts pages such as ‘Most Beautiful Teenager’ inviting young women to post photos of themselves online, and other site users to ‘like’ the photos. The number of ‘likes’ a photo gets determines whether the young woman in the photo is ugly, okay, pretty, gorgeous, beautiful, most beautiful or out of this world. A feminist analysis of these pages would ask why girls and women should be judged primarily as physical and sexual objects and set in competition with each other for men’s attention.

 

What do you think of beauty pageants? Is judging women on their appearance in this way ‘entertainment’?

Do you think it is OK for children to be judged in this way?

Compared with the revelations about women’s bodies that are widely available in the media today, beauty pageants might be considered rather tame. What do you think about the obsession with women’s bodies in newspapers, magazines and on social media and why do you think this exists?

 

Image details

Miss World boardgame image courtesy of The Women’s Library, photographer Bob Pullen

Why Miss World? pamphlet © Jo Robinson, Sally Alexander, Jenny Fortune, Mary Kelly and a collective of other protestors

Anti Miss World photograph © Getty Images

No! Miss World! No! photograph © Getty Images