I'm going to be a part of a beauty pageant.
I know what you're thinking: Jen, seriously, YOU are going to be in a beauty pageant? Aren't you a feminist?
First, let me be clear, I'll be a part of it, NOT taking part in it. I'll be a judge on the panel, not a delegate being judged.
And secondly, just because I identify as a feminist doesn't automatically mean that I dislike beauty pageants. I'm a feminist because I stand for what it means: that all people are equal, that we are entitled to our human rights and we as humans have freedom of choice.
So I choose not to participate as a pageantee, but I have no qualms about being on the judging panel. Plus, who says feminists can't be pageantees too? These roles aren't mutually exclusive. Don't believe in the false dichotomy that they are.
Beauty and brains can go hand-in-hand.
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Besides, the beauty pageant I'm involved in is a different kind of pageant because it's not one of those ones.
The one I'm supporting is the Ms & Mrs Earth Australia 2017 pageant. This particular pageant honours the work of women doing remarkable things for our community and provides women a platform to educate others about the need to move towards a more sustainable and fair-trade life.
Now do you understand why I'm involved?
When Ms & Mrs Earth Australia Pageant Director Danielle Marsh approached me via email, she initially asked if I wanted to be a speaker. Before I could say yes, I had to do my homework first.
What concerns me about most beauty pageants is the way they perpetuate an unrealistic beauty ideal and physical standard. Women have enough battles with their bodies at it is. A pageant's extreme focus on age, height, weight and physical appearance is completely unhealthy and sets the impossible beauty expectations that I abhor.
So when I read through the information on the pageant's website, my concerns dissipated. The Ms & Mrs Earth Australia pageant didn't seem your stereotypical, degrading I'm-hotter-than-you catty event. The pageant had an age minimum of 21 years and older and no height or weight restrictions and it focussed on showcasing the community work of wonderfully diverse women. I was delighted to learn this.
Young women are especially susceptible to the influence of media and society's expectations. I am highly conscious of how this conditioning affects girls and teens. I came out relatively unscathed but around me I saw some friends who weren't as fortunate. So to know that this pageant isn't just about skin-surface-superficiality but rather a woman's substance brings me a great deal of comfort. I don't want to be a part of anything that indirectly causes internal conflict in an impressionable young person.
But I scheduled a phone call with Danielle anyway to confirm everything I had read. I wanted to be certain.
"The Ms and Mrs Earth Australia beauty pageant embraces women aged 21 to over 50," Danielle explains to me on the phone. "Our pageant aims to break beauty stereotypes and is inclusive of women with diverse backgrounds. Miss Universe and other pageants have age and height restrictions, ours doesn't. Plus those pageants reject delegates with children or who are married whereas we don't. We welcome women over 21 years age, married or unmarried, with or without children." Brilliant, I tell her. Yours is the sort of pageant I'm happy to support.
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Crowned Mrs Australia World in 2014, Danielle is no stranger to the pageant circuit. She explains her own experience as a delegate had been an empowering one and the "sisterhood" (as she refers to other pageant contestants) continue to be friends and confidantes to this day. "It was a result of my wonderful [pageant] experiences that I decided to combine two passions; organics and sustainability and pageants by bringing Ms and Mrs Earth to Australia. I want to show Australia how much work our finalists do to make our world a better place, the long hours spent searching for sponsors, fundraising and attending events."
"My goal is to provide a pageant that is supportive of its entrants to help them spread the word of looking after our planet through various initiatives such as reducing single use plastic, using local, organic and eco-friendly products, looking after our animals, forests and seas." - Danielle Marsh, Ms & Mrs Earth Australia Pageant Director
Danielle also asked if I would serve as a judge and I agreed. May as well put my analytical and observational skills to good use while I'm at the pageant, I thought. But then a question hit me: What is the criteria that I'll be judging the women against?
Thankfully I found the information I needed on the Ms & Mrs Earth Australia website. I learned that winners will be chosen based on their ability to be a role model, a spokesperson and a leader to inspire change. It isn't about how "beautiful" they are but how they present themselves to have the greatest impact for change.
So they will be assessed on how they perform in a 3-minute private interview, how and why they selected their 'eco wear' and their 'on-stage' presence wearing an evening gown. This is going to be tough, how do you crown one person when I'm certain they are all deserving winners?!
As if she'd been reading my mind, a day or so later Danielle sent over a PDF titled 'Judge's Handbook'. Perfect. I used to be a hiring manager in the corporate world and 'judged' a job candidate based on how they performed against interview criteria. The role of pageant judge is not too dissimilar to this, thank goodness!
Prizes up for grabs
The winner of Ms & Mrs Earth Australia 2017 will get an all expenses paid trip to represent Australia at the International Final to be held in Las Vegas in June.
The winner of the overall pageant and crowned Ms & Mrs Earth receives a total prize package worth over $20,000 which includes a Caribbean cruise, 5-day paid-trip to Brazil and other covetable items, not to mention gaining attention and valuable media exposure for the causes they care about. Bet you're thinking of entering next year now you know how lucrative the prize is - am I right?
So if you'd like to come along to an event that promises to leave you inspired as well as support some amazing earth-conscious women, make sure to come to the inaugural crowning on 4th March 2017 at Mantra Bell City, Preston at 7pm. It's $65 per ticket and includes canapés and a drink on arrival. You can purchase your tickets here.
Plus you'll get to hear me talk. Bonus incentive right there 🙂
To learn about the pageant delegates or if you'd like further details about this event, head to http://www.msandmrsearthaustralia.com/