This one is an aside, about as far as you can get from this blog's theme as I can get. Heck, the subject of the pageant is miles from Trivandrum. But, like I have said before on a few occasions, some things cannot be left unsaid.
Given what makes for the term "entertainment" on the Malayalam satellite channel universe, I was unusually affected as I was watching the telecast of the Miss Kerala pageant. Unusual, because it is pretty difficult to be moved by the mix of belaboured reality shows, never-ending serials and other miscellaneous ragtag which make up our viewing bouquet these days and because, while my view of beauty paegaents is not as colorful as Shri Thevalliparambil Joseph Alex I.A.S., I don't hold them in high esteem for anything other than aesthetic interest.
One reason is because the concept of "beauty" projected by most of these competitions seems to be skewed towards a small percentage of the population. That 1% of the populace which is female and borders on the verge of anorexia. And I don't say that just because I tip the scales a little bit too much, lol! Let's face it, most of us are not extremely thin or very tall. It is understandable that there should be some aspirational value to the models who don the latest in fashion. Whether many people would aspire to be so lean as to have their ribs visible enough for easy counting is another matter. My basic idea is that clothes are designed to be produced, those produced are made to be sold and the vast majority of clothes sold are to normal people. So why not have them modeled by some normal people, after all I would like to see how a new style of jeans would look on someone with a 38" waistline not just on 28" (ouch!) men?
The upshot of this edition of Miss Kerala was that one of the contestants did not fit the stereotype of a "model" which all of the others were trying to jostle into. Tina Mathew was a pretty Central Travancorean lass who was a lot more about feminine curves than her co-contestants and was damn proud of that fact.
It took me and my better half a few seconds to even comprehend the fact that Tina wasn't skinny, umpteen previous contests had drilled that compulsion into our heads. And what was very impressive, pleasantly so, was that Tina managed to carry it off in style - without liberal doses of the West Yorkshire/North Houston accented malayalam/english common on TV these days or teeny-weeny outfits characteristic of beauty contests. In one of the rounds she was asked a rather spiky question, which went along the lines of asking how she felt about being a non-stereotypical model in a very one-alley world. Tina replied that she felt that the vast majority of women had more to do with curves than with straight lines, and that women should be confident about being feminine. Then came the clincher, Tina politely said that if more women followed her example, all the contestants in the 2009 edition would be full-figured young women! The two of us couldn't help but give a standing ovation to that although we were pretty sure that the esteemed judges would never hand her the crown. Tina didn't win in the end, although she won the Miss Congeniality title as a sort of consolation. That recognition is a pretty good sign that apart from being the cutest of the lot - as attested to by fine-eyed better half - she was probably the gutsiest and nicest girl too. Yet she didn't win.
Tina may not have been crowned, she did send an important message out, one I hope a lot of people did not miss. It is simple, we should never forget what the ultimate aim is. Creating a disconnect from the real audience, the billions with the real-world figures, will kill the market. There will be some novelty value for a while, but interest will wane in things which are not relevant, all said and done. Like any other industry, the clothing sector too has to adapt to changing demographics. The Versaces and Guccis of the world will be forced to cater to the ever-expanding middle class whose wealth has now become too important to ignore.
A different angle to the same topic came up around in the fierce discussion around a BBC programme on Disabled Models which asked if beautiful women who suffer from disabilities should be denied a modeling career? More than the question about real-figured women, this particular debate comes closer to questioning the meaning of beauty itself. A less subjective way of looking at is to question whether modeling or advertising as a whole should focus on the real customer or choose to remain in an abstract realm?
This year's pageant may have not have recognised Tina but soon it may be impossible to hold contests without bending to the pressure of people like her, you and me. In a world which hosts pageants for all sorts of things including cats and dogs, why not a competition for real people?!