This councillor wanted to debate beauty pageants. They called him a wanker. - Women's Agenda

This councillor wanted to debate beauty pageants. They called him a wanker.

George Simon wanted the Ryde City Council to debate the issue of beauty pageants but his efforts were unsuccessful and his fellow councillors were unimpressed.

“I’ve been called a nit-wit, a wanker and a galut,” the ALP member and Ryde councillor told Women’s Agenda. “It’s fascinating that a group of mostly male councillors decided to throw mud and name-call rather than show any willingness to tackle the issue head on. The issue being gender and gender equality and the role men play in that.”

Last night Ryde City Council rejected a call to cut its association with two pageant contests for teenagers and young women after Simon argued that they are ‘archaic’ and promote a demeaning message amongst young girls. “Beauty pageants are archaic and send all the wrong messages” Simon said. “Girls and young women can achieve so much more than just looking good enough to be given a tiara.”

Simon proposed the motion to debate the Council’s support for beauty pageants after reading – week after week – stories in the local paper about the competitions. “What hit home for me was the idea that council is giving credibility to these competitions that it shouldn’t have. It just reinforces unnecessary stereotypes about what women can and should aspire to,” he said. “There are serious issues here around media creating unrealistic perceptions of body image and the impact it has on girls and young women in particular. That was the debate I was really trying to have.”

It wasn’t the debate he got.

Both the Miss Eastwood Granny Smith Festival Queen Quest, open to women age 16 and over, and the Gladesville ‘Teen Queen’ contest, for women age 13 to 19 will continue to enjoy the council’s support. Last month’s Granny Smith pageant was attended by Ryde’s mayor and federal and state MPs John Alexander and Victor Dominello.

Pageant organiser, John Booth, (who is also the proprietor of The Weekly Times- a local newspaper famous for its outspoken campaigning style and recent appearance at an ICAC enquiry) said contestants are not judged on their appearance, but on responses to questions about local knowledge, ambition and community involvement.

“Beauty does not come into it – but we don’t penalise them for being beautiful either,” says Booth. “They’re trying to make it out as disparaging to women but it’s politically correct rubbish. There’s no swimsuit competition and most judges are women.”

But can these pageants actually be a positive platform to build a career?

Emma Watkins, also known as the Yellow Wiggle, thinks so. Ryde City Council has run these pageants for 30 years and several famous names have emerged as prior festival queens, with Watkins being one who won not one but 2 pageants, in both 2005 and 2009.

Watkins said that winning is more focused on community involvement than beauty.

“As a little girl I just aspired to be a Granny Smith Festival Queen,” said Watkins, now age 25. “[Judging is] definitely all about contestants’ involvement in the community.

Watkins says that the pageant improved her self-confidence, instead of the popular belief that it is harmful for young girls self esteem: “Winning improved my confidence and pubic speaking and self-esteem in the middle of those teenage years.”

What about other celebrities such as Jennifer Hawkins, Erin Mcnaught and Jesinta Campbell, whose careers blossomed after competing in the Miss Universe Pageant.

16 year old, Tamara Jones, winner of Miss Eastwood 2011, wrote: “The role in no way was a beauty pageant…While the crown and sash might be glamorous having my voice heard by local government, participate in radio discussions of current affairs, raising funds for local charities, supporting members involved in the community and inspiring female leadership has been priceless.”

There are of course many documented concerns about the damaging and sexualising nature of beauty pageants, by institutes such as The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, as well as many child development experts regarding to the destructions to healthy child developments that beauty pageants can cause – they pit little girls against each other from a very young age and create an early morbid awareness of body image.

Anti-pageant groups such as Pull the Pin, believe “pitting young children against each other in a competition based on physical beauty instils harmful messages in children, including that their looks are their currency and that it’s ok to judge on physical appearance.”

Among the prizes for the Miss Eastwood Granny Smith pageant, is a $1000 voucher to June Dally-Watkin’s finishing school, which counts 11 former Miss worlds, Universes and Teen Internationals in its alumni.

Toddlers & Tiaras is a controversial reality show in America which documents the competitive world of child pageants, with pint sized girls, parading around in full hair and make-up, and sparkly pink dresses that resemble cupcakes, not to mention fake eyelashes, spray-tanning and even waxing.

You may think – or hope – this $5 billion industry of beauty pageants only exists in America and assume there is no way Australians would be dressing up their daughters like dolls to compete alongside other young dolls. Unfortunately you’d be wrong.

What a shame the Ryde City Council demurred on the opportunity to debate the substantive issue here. Are beauty pageants really necessary in 2014?

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