- On Beauty and Protest
For feminist politics, the question of beauty is a complicated web of notions of femininity, desire, sexuality, and power. Beauty has long been used to reinforce hierarchies, sexism, and racism. What is the relationship between beauty and social protest? What are the uses of beauty? On October 29, 2017, the contestants of the Miss Peru beauty pageant stunned the audience when rather than giving their measurements as is customary in many beauty pageants, they shared alarming statistics of violence against women in Peru.1 The women revealed figures such as: "Mi nombre es Camila Canicoba y represento a Lima, mis medidas son 2,202 casos de feminicidio reportado en los últimos nueve años en mi país"; "Mi nombre es Samantha Batallanos, represento a Lima y mis medidas son una niña muere cada diez minutos por producto de la explotación sexual"; "Mi nombre es Juana Acevedo y mis medidas son, mas del 70 por ciento de las mujeres de nuestro país es victima de acoso callejero" (My name is Camila Canicoba and I represent Lima, my measurements are 2,202 cases of feminicide reported in the last nine years in my country; My name is Samantha Batallanos, I represent Lima, and my measurements are a girl dies every ten minutes as a result of sexual exploitation; My name is Juana Acevedo and my measurements are more than 70 percent of women in our country are victims of street harassment). The hashtag #mismedidasson (#mymeasurementsare)2 trended on social media and the story made news around the world. Beauty pageants have long been trivialized as sites where women's bodies are displayed and consumed by audiences. They are seen as frivolous events that promote dominant ideas of physical beauty where contestants are mostly seen but not heard. This only heightens the impact of the statistics of domestic [End Page 279] abuse and the trafficking of women and children revealed that night. The unexpected focus on ending violence against women in the context of a popular culture spectacle like a beauty pageant that traditionally aims to define the ideal woman was unsettling and disruptive, creating the strange experience of a beauty that has the power to destabilize.
The event organizers had decided that they wanted to host a different kind of Miss Peru pageant that year and turn the event into a protest and a space to promote social change. The master of ceremony, Peruvian actor Cristian Rivero said,
No queremos un país con mas violencia. Esta noche no solo se trata de estas veintitres mujeres. Esta noche se trata de todas las mujeres de nuestro país que tienen derecho y merecen respeto. No mas violencia. Este es el mensaje que queremos dar en este Miss Peru.
(We do not want a country with more violence. Tonight is not only about these twenty-three women; tonight is about all of the women of our country who have rights and deserve respect. No more violence. This is the message we want to share in this Miss Peru.)
Implied in Rivero's statement is the idea that the twenty-three beautiful contestants representing different regions of the nation, in fact, represent all Peruvian women. Therefore if the country values and celebrates these twenty-three women, it should, by extension, honor and respect all Peruvian women.
During the swimsuit competition, the thirteen finalists walked the stage in gold bikinis while images of newspaper headlines reporting violence against women were projected onto the backdrop of the stage. Including photos of women who were so badly beaten that their eyes were swollen shut and their faces unrecognizable. Some of the headlines read: Costurero estrangula esposa; Acosador incrusta cuchillo a mujer embarazada y fuga; 63 mujeres violadas a diario; Borracho mata esposa a golpes (Tailor Strangles Wife; Assailant Stabs Pregnant Woman and Flees; Sixty-Three Women Raped Daily; Drunk Man Beats His Wife to Death). The segment closed with Rivero imploring viewers, "Que estos títulares no se vuelvan a escribir nunca más. Es hora que nosotros cambiemos. Más importante es hora que las leyes de este país cambien" ("May headlines...