Miss GB: Are Beauty Pageants still just as degrading in 2021?
Firstly, *disclosure alert*, aside from what I gleaned from watching Sandra Bullock literally kick butt in Miss Congeniality when I started this piece I knew very little, nay absolutely nothing, about beauty pageants.
Pageants have had bad PR in the past (just google Toddlers & Tiara’s…) and I had cast them onto my feminism naughty list. A list reserved for the likes of thigh gaps, body slimming apps and the (thankfully recently scrapped) tampon tax.
Turns out, I may have jumped to conclusions.
Enter, Kirsty Fletcher, a 51-year-old business owner, wife and mother of two from Blackwater.
Kirsty is a finalist in the first ‘classic division’ of Miss Great Britain due to take place in September this year.
CHALLENGING THE STIGMA
Having celebrated its 75th-anniversary in 2020, Miss Great Britain has made headlines as it introduces its first ‘classic division’ competition aimed at women aged 40 plus, later this year.
“I think it’s fantastic that the pageant has recognised that more mature ladies still have plenty to offer,” Kirsty explains. “The Miss GB organisation is far removed from the traditional pageant and has worked hard to challenge the stigma from stereotypes.”
Despite the controversial swimwear round still being on the bill, judging is no longer on physical attributes but instead on self-confidence rather than appearance.
Contestants choose their swimwear and any additional personal choice; say sarongs or kaftans, are all encouraged if it empowers the wearer.
Kirsty admits that she began to feel her most confident when she was 43. Before this, like many women, she had been titled a ‘wife’, a ‘mother’ and had lost a sense of self; of what made her, her before being labelled in these roles.
“I started to flourish at 43 when my daughter Daisy encouraged me to first step foot on the pageant stage. I had never done anything like it and it took me completely out of my comfort zone. But it was something I was doing just for me – not as a wife or mum – just as a woman and it felt fantastic.”
The icing on the cake at that first pageant was winning but for Kirsty, the most important thing was to help inspire and encourage other women, in their 40s, 50s and beyond to still feel fabulous and to flourish. To not see an age number as a negative but as marking an exciting new chapter in life.
“My children are grown up and finding their own way, leaving my husband Gareth and I, to adapt to an ‘empty nest’.
……..It’s another chapter change in our lives but I’m excited to focus on supporting and uplifting a sisterhood of empowered women.”
Miss Great Britain still represents some elements of tradition but states that it is inclusive; judging isn’t solely done on physical attributes but instead on recognising elements such as confidence, talent, entrepreneurialism, mentoring roles and charitable activity, with all finalists encouraged to take part in charity work.
“When I entered my first pageant at 43, I didn’t find a room of competitive, bitchy women vying for the spotlight. I found a new family. A group of fantastic women who support each other and just want to be strong, female ambassadors for girls and women everywhere.”
Of course, I couldn’t let Kirsty go without answering one big, finale question.
No, I didn’t draw from Miss Congeniality for this one (‘World Peace’ I hear you all cry!) Instead, I asked what she has learnt in life so far, what advice Kirsty would give to her younger self?
“I’d tell myself to feel confident in my skin,” Kirsty exclaims. “Not to sweat the small stuff and to believe in myself. There’s only one you, and no one can do that as well as you or take that away from you.”
If I’m completely honest, I’m not sitting here a complete convert.
I still think that universally, pageants have a long way to go if they want to truly be representative of all 21st-century women. I’m certainly not comfortable with women being judged in this way.
However, many women feel really empowered by taking to the pageant stage and I can hold my hands up and recognise that Miss Great Britain is making changes, striving to be more inclusive and taking a step in the right direction.
Miss Great Britain takes place on 17 September 2021. To find out more visit www.missgreatbritain.co.uk or to donate to Kirsty’s chosen charities; Cancer Research UK and Alex’s Wish, visit uk.virginmoneygiving.com/kirstyfletcher.
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