In today’s edition of ‘Is it too little, too late?’, we have the Miss Universe pageant. In a very welcome move, the Miss Universe pageant has relaxed some of its guidelines that previously promoted a very narrow idea of what ‘beauty’ can be. Among other firsts, one of the contestants who has been grabbing eyeballs both in the pageant and online is Miss Nepal, Jane Dipika Garrett.
Who Is Jane Dipika Garrett?
It is almost poetic that Jane Dipika Garrett caught eyes for her absolutely stunning walk during the pageant’s swimsuit round which has historically been one of the more controversial rounds.
Garrett has completed her nursing degree but revealed, during an episode of ‘On Air: With Sanjay Silwal Gupta’, that it isn’t her ‘true passion,’ “I am glad I have that degree as well because it has helped me and given me a lot of experience. But my true passion is acting and modeling; I like media…expression of myself. I also love business as well. I was trying to do some business development and modeling on the side.”
Garrett also garnered public support after her preliminary interview round for Miss Universe Nepal 2023 where she said,
“Well as a woman who is curvy and who does not meet certain beauty standards, I'm here to represent women who are curvy, who struggle with weight gain, who struggle with hormonal issues and I believe there is not just one type of beauty standard. Every single woman is beautiful just as she is. I would use this platform, Miss Universe Nepal, to inspire women to accept themselves, to be themselves, and to be confident in their bodies just as it is.”Miss Nepal Jane Dipika Garrett
She has further advocated for the importance of hormonal health and PCOS and mental health among other things.
Speaking about her early days as a contestant, she said, “I felt really insecure... I would compare myself to the other girls and think that I'm not tall enough or not pretty enough or too chubby and I can't even walk. But I kept pushing myself and learning and especially towards the Preliminary round, I felt confident in myself and a lot of people started noticing me after my interview.”
Her inclusion in the pageant has led to mixed reactions with many attempting to shroud fatphobia under faux concern. But for many, her appearance on stage has been inspirational.
Here are some of the reactions to Miss Nepal’s Miss Universe journey:
Garrett, who emerged as a crowd favourite during preliminaries held in El Salvador on 15 November, is the first plus-sized model to compete in the pageant. To put that in perspective, the Miss Universe pageant is 72 years old and the latest edition is being touted as the ‘most inclusive’ in history. But what does that mean?
An Age-Limit, No Married Women & More: Miss Universe’s Past Rules
Two of the most important limitations for contestants were that they couldn’t be married (or be mothers for that matter) and had to be between 18 to 28 years old by the start of the pageant.
The problematic legacy of beauty pageants has been discussed for decades – criticism has mainly been directed at the way the pageants are structured to place physical beauty as a marker of success over everything else and the very prevalent catering to the male gaze.
Beauty pageants celebrating only conventional (and often unrealistic) beauty standards had a harmful effect on young people who believed that ‘perfection’ came from prescribing to those standards.
Arguably, it is not just pageants that held up these beauty standards, multiple industries across the world benefit from marketing an ‘ideal’ type. For instance, multiple cosmetic products advertise a “glowing” skin which visually translates to ‘fairer’ skin; a Eurocentric attribute that has often been associated with ‘beauty’.
There’s also the sexist notion of only considering women who are unmarried or not mothers worthy of competing in a beauty pageant; many have argued that this comes from the idea that women not being 'available' takes away from their desirability.
You will often see arguments that a separate pageant exists for them but why is there a need for a separation?
As former Miss Universe, model, and software engineer Andrea Meza said to Insider, in response to the news that married women and mothers will be included in the pageant from its 72nd edition, “A few people are against these changes because they always wanted to see a single beautiful woman who is available for a relationship. They always wanted to see a woman that from the outside looks so perfect that she's almost unreachable. The former is sexist and the latter is unrealistic."
"I honestly love that this is happening. Just like society changes and women are now occupying leadership positions where in the past only men could, it was about time pageants changed and opened up to women with families. There are a lot of women that got married young or had kids in their early 20s and they always wanted to participate in Miss Universe but couldn't because of the rules.”Andrea Meza to Insider
For the longest time, beauty pageants have been exclusionary but over the years, several contestants have challenged these notions in their own ways; in their personal rebellions. In August, a Miss England contestant Melisa Raouf chose to walk completely barefaced which, if you’ll believe it, is a first in that pageant’s history.
Miss Bahrain Manar Nadeem Deyani, during the swimsuit round of Miss Universe 2021, wore flowing activewear to loud cheers from the audience. Acts like these (along with every single woman’s choice on what she wears on that stage) are important because they highlight the importance of giving women agency in the way they present themselves.
Miss Universe: Under New Leadership & a Pageant of ‘Firsts’
The world of Miss Universe is changing and how. Coming to the age restrictions, during Tanner Fletcher’s show at New York Fashion Week, Miss Universe 2022 R’Bonney Gabriel had announced that the Miss Universe pageant will soon be welcome to every adult woman in the world. This change will reportedly come into effect from 2024.
Considering that the edition is also the first to allow married women and mothers to compete, two other contestants have also made history – Miss Guatemala Michelle Cohn and Miss Colombia Camila Avella.
On the other hand, the 2023 edition will be the first to feature at least two trans women as contestants for the first time – Miss Portugal Marina Machete and Miss Netherlands Rikkie Kollé.
After the Miss Universe Organization changed its rules and lifted its ban on trans contestants in 2012, Spain’s Ángela Ponce became the first trans contestant in the pageant. Ponce’s journey also acted as inspiration for the new owner of the Miss Universe Organization, Thai media tycoon Anne Jakkaphong Jakrajutatip.
Jakrajutatip had told Them that she “stood up and applauded” for Ponce when she was competing, “I cried and she also cried on the stage.”
“When I turned back, everyone just stood up after me and applauded her big time. That moment, I thought, 'This is it. This is a pageant I can turn into a platform and it must be a women's empowerment platform’.”Anne Jakkaphong Jakrajutatip to Them.
Jakrajutatip, who has been vocal about her journey as a trans woman and is also an advocate for transgender rights, bought the organization in 2022. In a statement sent to Business Insider, Jakrajutatip had affirmed, “We seek not only to continue its legacy of providing a platform to passionate individuals from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and traditions, but also to evolve the brand for the next generation.”
"From now on it's going to be run by women, owned by a trans woman, for all women around the world.”Anne Jakkaphong Jakrajutatip
The 2023 pageant is the second edition under Jakrajutatip’s leadership and maybe there is hope for a world where the cons of beauty pageants don’t outweigh the pros. Because, again believe it or not, even Jakrajutatip’s seat at the head of the table is a first – she is the first woman to own the organization since it began in 1952.