Let’s Talk: Beauty Pageants
Schrier brought a STEM talent to a beauty pageant and excelled at it; opening doors for a more diverse, inclusive, well rounded set of skills to be demonstrated on a national stage
Beauty pageants have had a long history of objectification, exploitation, sexism, and racism. The whole premise of a pageant is to put women on display, parade them, rate them on superficial factors that barely go skin-deep, evaluate the value of their existence on a score card, and rank them in the order of a male pleasure-centric idea of unrealistic beauty standards. Phew. That sentence took my breath away.
My point is, beauty pageants have always been a sore spot for me. I am far from objectively beautiful - I don’t think I’ve been called beautiful by anyone apart from my mother. I shrink into myself in the presence of gorgeous women, I am always very much aware of the space I take up. I have been repeatedly told that I am too much - too big, too round, too sweaty, too hyper, too dark, too loud, too happy, too out there, too much of a woman. I have been told to adapt, to be more ladylike for the benefit of my audience- because as women we're only acting for the validation and pleasure of our viewers.
Grace, poise, charm - these are things I’ve aspired to, these are things I’ve been told to imbibe. These are the ideals that are manufactured by society every day. Beauty pageants are annual celebrations of these very standards that are ridiculously impossible to achieve, reinforcing the belief that women can be distilled down to the essence of how presentable they are to a panel of judges. A pageant traditionally has a few rounds, but the highlights of every pageant can be broken down to these sessions - the ball-gown parade, the swim suit round, the Q & A session, and finally, the talent showcase. Recently, the Miss America pageant made headlines for cutting out its swimsuit competition, but the basic structure remains. I never imagined that I would be emotionally invested in a system of exploitation and objectification to this extent.
Enter Camille Schrier.
When the news broke yesterday that a 24 year old biochemist and Pharm.D student won the Miss Virginia pageant, where her special talent was a demonstration of the catalytic decomposition of hydrogen peroxide (for us Muggles, read: foam, explosion, colours, cool science), my heart rose, it filled to the brim, and I didn’t know what to do with myself.
Typically, the talent portion of any pageant is a song, a dance, some baton twirling, and at most - making music on the rims of water glasses, like Sandra Bullock famously did in Miss Congeniality. This has been previously criticised - excellence in sports, science and other fields are often difficult to exhibit on stage within a time constraint. This weekend however, when Camille Schrier made colourful streams of foam shoot out of beakers on stage, a little bit of the glass ceiling cracked.
The impact of her talent showcase is two-fold: One, as always, is that representation matters. I’d insert the handclap emoji after every word in that previous sentence if I could, because of how much I want to underline the importance of it. Little girls watching the pageant this weekend saw that they could one day grow up to experiment, to create, to research, to learn and teach. This is where the optics of her talent matters - dressed in a lab coat, protective lab glasses, a button down shirt, diamond earrings, and heels, Schrier gave us a glimpse into a world where doors are open to little girls who dream of being brilliant and beautiful; who are struggling with reconciling a career with the expectations set upon them by society.
Second, Schrier brought a STEM talent to a beauty pageant and excelled at it; opening doors for a more diverse, inclusive, well rounded set of skills to be demonstrated on a national stage. She set precedent by showing the world that science is a desirable skill too, and broke the stereotypical understanding of what a pageant talent looks like.
I’m not saying pageants are the ideal avenue for women to achieve self-actualisation. But if there are more women out there with the motivation and confidence to get on that stage and tap into their brilliance and their beauty - both inside and out - then all I have to say is: Yass, girl, more power to you.