It was a first for me. The other day I attended a dress launch for Miss Sweden’s participation in the Miss World competition. For one and a half hours I was willing to set aside my feminist principles against beauty pageants and celebrate the creation of a friend of a friend who had worked his way up to the top of his chosen profession. Also, they were serving free champagne. Yes, my principles had some temptation in the form of fizz.
So we went, the three of us to the glitzy hotel dolled up in our finery. The drum roll started and we waited for the curtain to open. But instead the presentation started off with a youtube video. And as the gatherers tinkled the glasses in harmony with their laughter, we one by one stopped laughing, until the only tinkling we could hear came from downstairs.
On the screen were the images you wanted to forget. The twin towers burning. Be-headings. Acid ripped faces of women in veils. Graphic torture. Male feet standing on starved babies. Children with hollow eyes, holding guns. It went on, and on, and on until it brought tears to my eyes and I had to turn away.
I tried to be patient with my opinion. What purpose could it serve? I waited for the explanation to come. But when it came, with it so did my anger.
‘There is so much pain in the world’, said the designer, ‘And one might ask – what is the relevance of a beauty pageant amid this destruction? But I say it is now that we must stand up for the empowerment of women in face of these tragedies. And so I give you my creation, inspired by Santa Lucia, to bring a light to the world.’
What a load of bollocks.
For the past week, my son and daughter have been dressed as a gingerbread man and a mini santa respectively. It is to celebrate the festival of light, that of Santa Lucia…popular in countries where we spend the winter in darkness.
Cities in Sweden elect an official Lucia, a young woman dressed in a white robe, with a crown of candles and a red sash. It’s a nice tradition, but it’s certainly not about empowering women. Rather it’s about preserving the illusion that the ‘best’ women are the ‘purest’… and that the purest mean uncontaminated by semen. Neither, by any stretch of the imagination is the Miss World competition about empowering women. It puts impossible ideals of beauty on a pedestal (notwithstanding the charitable acts of its contestants). But then to position a dress as the solution to tragedy?
A step too far.
And so the curtain drew back to reveal a strikingly beautiful model, in a flowing virginal white gown, a crystal crown and a diamante spangled red sash. The collar was high and the bodice tight and heavy with Swarovski. She could hardly walk for the height of her heels and she had her hands pressed together as if in prayer.
‘Ahhhh’ went the crowd and I felt like screaming ‘What the FUCK is wrong with you people!’
I didn’t of course, having had only two glasses of champagne, not five… but my spirit was severely jolted. And when the designer came out afterwards to be congratulated, I hissed at my boyfriend
‘What on earth can I say?’
‘Follow my lead,’ he said with a smirk and turned to the designer. ‘You must be so proud.’
And I said, ‘Yes, you must be very proud. There are no words to do it justice.’
And then we left, because I couldn’t have held it in any longer. I’m not a proponent of passive-aggressive communication. But sometimes, it serves a purpose.