Miss West Coast: Crowns and critics


Image supplied by PinkTankEvents

Bella Kasimba, 24 Julia Edwards, 21 (announced as Miss West Coast for 2019) Justine Heron, 21 Shivon Sweet, 22

Razia Osmani, Reporter

The 2019 Miss West Coast finals took place in Fremantle last Friday, 15 March. The event organisers PinkTank, claimed that some of WA’s “most” beautiful competitors were hoping to be crowned Miss West Coast 2019, so they would qualify in securing a spot in the national Miss Universe Australia Final.

Dr Susan Maushart told NewVineWA: “In my opinion, the whole notion of parading women to be judged like a mob of livestock is degrading and absurd. It’s hard for me to understand how and why the tradition persists – or why women continue to aspire to compete.” Maushart wears many hats, some of which include being a journalist, broadcaster, social critic and author of five books, including the feminist classics The Mask of Motherhood and Wifework and the internationally acclaimed memoir The Winter of Our Disconnect

PinkTank declined to be interviewed, although according to their website, “The Miss Universe Pageant in Western Australia and the Miss West Coast competition has had a long proud history of fun, sunshine and amazing innocence since it’s inception back in the mid 1970s.” Miss West Coast contestants all participate on an annual basis over an eight month period, in all types of events in the lead up to the finals. The events and activities are all charity-driven fundraisers, such as the Lawn Bowls Corporate Championship, cocktail functions, workshops, parades and of course the State Final.

ECU journalism and public relations student Vanessa Vlajkovic made history in last year’s contest by being the first visually and hearing impaired contestant to  compete in the Miss West Coast pageant. She finished in the top 24. Vlajkovic told NewsVineWA: “It was nice being the first ever deaf and blind woman in the competition, that was novel and interesting.”

No stranger to competition, Vlajkovic had already been crowned Miss Deaf Australian in 2015 and she was named as the WA Young Person of the Year in 2016. Talking about Miss West Coast, she added that there was “lots of bias in the judging process. People putting value on how the girl walks rather than how she speaks, also me not being able to prepare at the same level that the others did, in terms of fitness classes, because it wasn’t practical for someone with a disability. [It was] very superficial, all about makeup, hair, body, how you walk, who you’re connected to.”

According to Maushart: “A beauty pageant is NEVER going to celebrate a woman’s strength, intelligence, wit, talent or inner spirit because … it’s a beauty pageant. The history and the reality of these displays make it clear that they are not about a woman’s worth, and they never will be. In fact, they are not even about women. They are about men, and men’s appraising stare, and men’s estimation of a woman’s sexual attractiveness.”

Beauty pageants have been taking place for many years all around the world. Some of these, such as Miss World and Miss Universe are broadcast internationally, with millions of viewers watching these parades. There are as many critics as there are fans and participants and some critics have suggested these shows objectify women.

The author of Accidental Feminist, Dr Jane Caro told NewsVineWA: “I loathe the idea that a woman’s value can be measured by how many men are attracted to her and that is essentially what beauty pageants are about, with the ‘most’ beautiful entrant is the ‘most’ valued woman, because more men desire her, what rubbish, what use is beauty?” Jane Caro is a novelist, broadcaster, columnist, advertising writer, and social commentator and she received the 2018 Walkley Award for Women’s Leadership.

It has been suggested that these shows project women in a certain light and place unnecessary pressure on them regarding beauty standards, which can have detrimental effects on people both mentally and physically, as well as sending the wrong message to the younger generation.

In an interview to NewsVineWA Dr Hannah McCann from the University of Melbourne said, “Pageants aren’t my area of expertise, but I can say that feminists have been concerned about beauty pageants for decades. Most notoriously, in 1968 women’s liberationists in the USA protested against the Miss America pageant.

“Their concern was that these pageants send the message that women should be judged on their looks, and that there are particular beauty standards that women must conform to.” McCann is a lecturer in Cultural Studies at the University of Melbourne, some of her work explores questions of gender presentation, sexuality, identity, beauty, feminist theory, and aesthetic labour.”

According to McCann, the issue isn’t the women themselves who participate in these pageants, as much as the fact that these pageants reflect something broader about society, “that women should be judged on their looks and of course, the women who participate in the pageant circuit might argue, that these events are about more than looks and beauty, which is a point of debate.”

Venine Palm, a pageant participant, debates this point as she has been a contestant in both Miss West Coast 2015 and Miss World Australia 2017 and placed in the Top 5 nationally. Palm said since participating many doors opened up for her, including getting a modelling job. Palm also went on to host the 2018 Miss World WA Competition, and she is currently doing her Graduate Diploma of Broadcasting at ECU.

ECU Humanities Professor and author Lelia Green told NewsVineWA that she is a feminist until her last breath, as most women of her generation are because they had to fight for their rights for equality. She added, the concerns long-held by feminists about pageants had been validated when Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. The Miss Universe organisation operates two pageants with Miss Universe being one of them and the other being, Miss Teen USA. These pageants were owned by Donald Trump, from 1996 to 2015. During his presidential campaign, many things were brought up in the media regarding his character, many accused Trump of being a misogynist who objectifies women, especially when his comments regarding “grabbing” women by their private parts came to light.

Considering the calibre of those who own these pageants it’s concern when the rules of the game involve contestants not being able to be married when participating. As Palm explained, she cannot participate again because she decided to get married.

Meanwhile, despite the critics, the newly crowned Miss West Coast 2019 and psychology student Julia Edwards is preparing to complete in the Miss Universe Final in Melbourne on July 27.