Are beauty pageants still relevant in modern Nepal? The debate continues.The post was a response to yet another viral Miss Nepal video-clip, this time less savoury than Khatiwada’s introductory video. In the clip from the auditions to this year’s pageant, choreographer Rachana Gurung Sharma is seen chastising 22-year-old contestant Ashmita Maharjan for appearing in the audition without makeup and in glasses.
In November last year, Miss Nepal 2018 Shrinkhala Khatiwada’s introductory video for Miss World went viral. Shot impeccably with roving drone shots and against majestic backgrounds, the video was viewed over two million times and shared across social media. Khatiwada made judicious use of social media, sharing updates and engaging with followers, earning herself a dedicated fan following. She ended up in the Miss World Top 12.
But on April 7, the reigning Miss Nepal took to social media to share a very different message.
“The problem is with the whole concept of beauty pageant. I’m a miss Nepal at the moment and I often have times when i question the relevance of pageants at all. It’s a never ending battle with my mind. I’ve seen the good and the bad. I was lucky to see mostly the goods [sic] of the pageant but there’s more to it,” she wrote on Instagram in a now-deleted post.
The post was a response to yet another viral Miss Nepal video-clip, this time less savoury than Khatiwada’s introductory video. In the clip from the auditions to this year’s pageant, choreographer Rachana Gurung Sharma is seen chastising 22-year-old contestant Ashmita Maharjan for appearing in the audition without makeup and in glasses.
“We at least expect you to wear makeup and come,” Gurung Sharma said. “This is disrespect.”
The clip triggered outrage on social media, with many taking to Twitter to voice criticism of the manner in which Gurung Sharma upbraided the young woman. The hashtags #NoMakeUp #Nomakeupandstillbeautiful were soon trending. But others took issue with beauty pageants themselves and whether such competitions should exist in this modern day. This is a debate that is ongoing across the world.
“Is anyone else finding this entire concept of these "judges" judging appearances & intelligence ridiculous? Shouldn't beauty pageants be obsolete by now?” questioned Ojaswi Rana on Twitter.
“It was a good thing that the clip went viral. Now people know that the major part of a beauty pageant, as the name suggests, is just physical or outer beauty,” said Samriddhi Rai, a top five contestant in Miss Nepal 2010, who later went on to participate in Miss Nepal International, in an email interview. “Ethically speaking, the core idea of a contest judging any person on the basis of how they look on the outside is so wrong.”
Rai didn’t have a pleasant experience while participating in Miss Nepal, she said. She had issues with the financial burden of having to invest in clothes, shoes, makeup, and accessories, alongside dealing with the preferential treatment of organisers.
“People should understand that at the end of the day, beauty pageants are a business,” said Rai. “And like any other business, it is created with the intent to make money.”
For many, beauty pageants are a holdover of an outdated age. In the modern world, with feminism and rising consciousness among women, beauty pageants that judge women on their externalities are seen as an anachronism. Miss Nepal itself seems to have realised this, saying on its website: “Miss Nepal's objective rests on three pillars: personality and leadership development and women empowerment.” But many believe that Gurung Sharma’s treatment of the young girl belies the pageant’s purported empowerment of women.
This isn’t just an issue with Miss Nepal. Ever since the first Miss Nepal in 1994, several other beauty pageants have emerged—Miss Newa, Miss Mongol, Miss Teen and Miss Tamang—in a manner reflecting the diversity of women.
“You need to be mentally prepared for all kind of repercussions before entering beauty pageants,” said Sunita Dangol, Miss Newa 2011. “I was prepared for all kinds of things.”
Dangol said she had to deal with immense pressure about her body image, as she was neither tall nor lean and thin. However, Dangol is of the opinion that such beauty pageants can serve as platforms for young women to explore a plethora of opportunities.
“If you can’t handle the rigorous pressure and training, it’s best if you don’t participate. But being part of the pageant has given to me so much more than I expected,” said Dangol. Pageants aren’t for those who strive for instant fame, and a lot of thought should go into the decision to participate, she said.
Sharvani Pandey, who was in Miss Nepal 2018 top 15, once thought that Miss Nepal “embraced and celebrated femininity”. But after participating in the competition, Pandey has changed her mind.
“Every woman is now pushed to look her best with an ever-increasing array of cosmetics, which has led women being conditioned to believe that these cosmetics and beauty treatments are essential to unearthing our inner beauty,” said Pandey.
Pandey believes that beauty pageants are doing more harm than good, so it's great that people are questioning what they actually stand for. “Such discussions and debates are necessary for the society to move forward and progress,” she said.
But many were also quick to point out the hypocrisy of social media users. When Nikita Chandak was crowned Miss Nepal 2017, many on social media criticised her for her appearance. In an interview with the Post, Chandak said that people had called her ugly because she was thin and dark-skinned, which affected her self-esteem so much that she stopped looking at the mirror.
Over the years, beauty pageants have been protested by a range of people, from political parties to feminists. However, beauty pageants continue to take place year after year, with numerous sponsors and thousands in attendance.
For others, the answer is not so black and white. “Beauty pageant not supposed to be feminist’s concern alone. It has to be concern of all to stop making woman commodity. However, participating in pageant is individual right of men and women as long as it is informed choice [sic],” wrote Mohna Ansari, member of the National Human Rights Commission, on Twitter.