Parading across a stage in swimsuits and evening wear, waiting for the votes to determine if you’re worthy, is definitely objectifying, but France is DTP: down to pageant.
The glamour, the glitz, the high production value—the French love it all, especially their national beauty pageant, Miss France. Last year, 8.6 million people tuned in to see Iris Mittenaere be crowned Miss France 2016. That’s nearly 13% of France! Unlike in the US, where feminism and Sunday night football have caused Miss America viewership to plummet, France still thanks heaven for little girls in beauty pageants.
And that’s the issue: Following a French Vogue spread featuring a 10-year-old dressed and made-up like a woman, France took a hard look at the effects of sexualizing young girls, specifically in the popular “Mini Miss” competitions (read: Honey Boo Boo). In 2014, a new amendment was passed stating that children under 13 may not participate in a beauty pageant. If they do, the adult that entered them in the contest pays a fine of €30,000 and faces up to two years in prison. Children 13-16’s beauty pageants have new regulations, and fines of €1500 for those that don’t follow them.
Proponents of the bill argued that it would protect children from being prematurely “sexualized” through heavy makeup and provocative outfits accentuating features that aren’t yet developed. With a law like that, you would think that France were banning Miss France, for girls ages 18-27.
But they’re not. Miss France is as popular, objectifying, and sexualizing as ever. Every reputable French news source currently has at least once article on Miss France 2017, which airs December 17th on TF1. By only banning beauty pageants for children under 13, French politicians exposed the hypocrisy of the law, the message behind it, and themselves. The ban a great first step, but it’s hypocritical to let Miss France continue existing, for three reasons.
France’s pageant-banning amendment was passed to prevent girls under 16 believing that their worth is only judged by their appearance. But once a girl turns 16, she doesn’t become a woman. Girls are still girls past 16, still young women past 18, and according to recent studies, not developmentally (mentally or emotionally) considered adults until 25. The competition age range extends from 18-27, but the average age of a contestant is 19.9 years old. 60% contestants are under 21, and this year no contestant is older than 24. (Only 19% of Miss America’s contestants are under 21.) Ask anyone younger than 30 how they feel about being objectified, about their body image issues, and if they’re certain of their value in this world, and there will be hours of therapy-worthy conversation to follow. So if French politicians were trying to protect young children during a vulnerable, developmental time in their lives by only banning under-13 pageants, they’re severely shortsighted.
The contestants are still adolescents. They attend high school and university, they use SnapChat, they look like teenagers. Premature sexualization of children through heavy makeup and provocative outfits is what the amendment banning Mini-Miss tried to eliminate, yet throughout the Miss France competition, girls wear corseted evening gowns, short skirts, and bikinis. Their hair cascades into helmets, faces caked with makeup, smiles set in stone. Dolled up, the girls are clearly dressed up to play the role of women.
Miss France throws the pageant-banning amendment an especially strong middle finger with their infamous Bikini Photo Shoot. Miss France doesn’t have the Miss America bikini strut with some candid photos taken during the show. This is a full-day photo shoot, with several individual shots (or as the URL says, “les-photos-sexy…en-bikini”) for each contestant, small group pics, and a large group photo. General director of the pageant Sylvie Tellier defends the pageant, saying it’s, “sexy but not vulgar”.
In contrast to Tellier’s defence, here’s what Newsmagazine Paris Match has to say, “the official bikini photo is a crucial step this week to prepare the 30 contestants. It’s the moment when all the young girls will be compared to each other. No chance of hiding their flaws. They should be perfect, flawless beauty queens. Their hair falls magnificently on their delicate shoulders, their legs are slender, backs straight, they look like perfect copies of dolls.”
We’ll let that speak for itself.
Carine Bizet of M magazine perhaps said it best: “This contest is a machine to format femininity… It’s an army of sterilized clones taking over the evening. And delivering a good-old sexist message: be beautiful, be well-behaved, be quiet, and you too can have a rhinestone crown.” Young girls aren’t partaking in their own pageant-driven silencing anymore, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t getting the message from their elders.
Miss France contestants stand, smile, dance, strut, model swimsuits and evening wear, and present a regional costume. In the first round of cuts, one of the criteria is the contestants’ interviews with the Miss France society during the week of the bikini photo shoot. None of the viewers see this interview. Only the top 12 contestants have a chance speak during the program, and do so briefly about themselves. So 30 girls come to the competition and 18 of their voices are never heard.
One of them will win and become Miss France, who then goes on to do mostly nothing but smile and look pretty. After winning, Miss France tours the country in her crown, smiling, waving, and signing autographs. She cuts ribbons, attends movie premieres, and lives in her paid-for Paris apartment with her €3000 monthly salary. She is seen with her prizes: an SUV, two Mac computers, a vacation, a makeover, wardrobes, and more.
She is seen, but never heard.
The hypocrisy of the whole situation should have been exposed by the rally-cry of the amendment’s author, senator Chantal Jouanno: “Let us not make our girls believe from a very young age that their worth is only judged by their appearance.” By including, “from a very young age” and only banning child beauty pageants, the French government says, “let us not allow young girls believe their worth is defined by their appearance… until they turn 18 and can compete to be Miss France, then they can know the truth about how their appearance defines their worth.”