Written by R. Galvez

Beauty queens were once stereotypically viewed as ambassadors of goodwill where the toughest questions they have to deal with require simple answers like ‘world peace’. This view should have sailed long ago but unfortunately it still persists. Beauty queens are still expected to remain politically neutral, and the vast majority of pageant fans as well as the general public believe that beauty queens should either deflect or evade political questions. 

Historically, beauty pageants shun controversial questions and even today, majority of them still observe that tradition. But as the political world is getting more and more polarized, things are beginning to change in the pageantry community. To fully appreciate these changes, let’s compare the question given to Miss Colombia Carolina Gomez during the Top 6 of Miss Universe 1994 pageant with the one given to Miss Colombia Gabriela Tafur at Miss Universe 2019. 

Carolina Gomez’ answer about the greatest problem that young people are facing was something we can all agree on. After all, there is nothing wrong about seeking advice from our elders. In contrast, due to the structure of her question about women’s health and access to reproductive health care, Gabriela Tafur was cornered to take a political side. It may not be apparent especially to those outside of the United States, but her answer on women having a choice on what to do with their body is actually the rallying cry of pro-abortion liberals that pro-life conservatives fervidly disdain.

Controversial questions especially those that pertain to social issues made inroads in beauty pageants around 10-15 years ago. Perhaps, no pageant question had ignited quite a political storm than that of Miss California Carrie Prejean during the Miss USA 2009 pageant.  As an evangelical Christian, Carrie asserted her opposition to gay marriage. Her answer received strong backlash from America’s liberal and mainly Democrat population while she received praises and support from the conservatives who are overwhelmingly Republicans.

A lot of these issues can elicit strong and passionate reaction from opposing camps. Some are less controversial than others. It is up to the beauty queens on how to balance their approach in answering these questions and over the years there are some interesting ways to do it. For example, during Miss Universe 2015 Top 5 round, both Miss Australia Monika Radulovic and Miss USA Olivia Jordan employed a technique of taking into account the views of both sides and then expressing what side they subscribe to. This allowed them to escape any violent reactions when dealing with highly diverged issues like legalization of marijuana and gun control.

Now is the time for pageant fans and the general public to acknowledge beauty queens as having the right to form and express their own personal opinions. Of course, such right has some responsibilities attached. You can take political sides, but you must be open to those who might challenge your position. Tact must also be exercised when criticizing any country or any government otherwise you’ll find yourself in the same situation as what Miss World Canada 2015 Anastasia Lin experienced. But some hot-button issues shouldn’t be debated at all because they are self-evident truths by nature like women’s rights and climate change. 

The reaction of some people to the recent interview of Missosology with Miss Universe Philippines Rabiya Mateo is a good example that beauty queens still suffer from ancient stereotypes. Her disagreement to a statement that women could not handle the presidency shouldn’t have been an issue to a country that elected two women leaders and rank way high on global gender equality index. In her answer, Rabiya didn’t even take a political side, but it was made as an excuse for the divided public to continue their usual political bickering. Isn’t it possible for Rabiya to criticize her president and still support him? The political divide has dangerously became a zero sum game.

Beauty queens have indeed a tricky road to navigate when it comes to divisive and political issues, but it is crucial that they should not be stripped of their right to make a stand. These days fake news continues to proliferate, and many ideas that were once on the fringes are now amplified and given platform by social media. Beauty queens can become a positive force to counter these things. As Miss Universe 2000 Lara Dutta once said, pageants give young women a platform to voice their choices and opinions. This should make the women of today strong and independent, and this is something everyone should agree on.