Cape Town — Township beauty pageants are extremely popular. On Saturday Sexee Simplicities ran a pageant in Du Noon. But are these competitions sexist and demeaning or do they actually empower women?
Sexee Simplicities is run by two women, Sethu Gwazube and Xolelwa Vithi.
Vithi says, "SeXee Simplicities is a campaign that aims to empower, inspire, lead and boost esteems to our sisters around the Milnerton area and to show them that everyone has the ability to be a role model and make a change in their lives as well as others." So far so good.
Then Vithi continues that the campaign aims to, "motivate and improve personalities of the young girls or ladies and to educate each other on how to carry ourselves in a pleasant manner. Seeing the young girls falling pregnant at a tender age or doing substance abuse is very common in our community due to the fact that there are no role models or public figures in the community whom young girls look up to. Sexee Simplicities wants to remind these young girls of their worth and make them know they can do anything." The campaign also has a Facebook page.
Saturday's pageant took place in Du Noon community hall. Seven girls from Du Noon between the ages of 16 and 18 took part in the competition. Gwazube said, "Putting the idea into action was a huge challenge and put a lot of strain on us. We ran around requesting sponsorships from businessmen and individuals because we didn't have enough funds. We had a mixed response from the community at large."
Vuyokazi Cetywayo was crowned Miss Dunoon. Ayama Phetha and Yonela Mzayifani were first and second princesses respectively. First princess, Petha, said, "I am confident in my body. it is okay for me to show my body like that because I love my body. They should do more of these contests because they help make us more confident in our bodies."
Beauty contests are the source of much debate and many feminist organisations accuse them of being sexist. Cherith Fanger of Sonke Gender Justice said, "The pageants are sexist. They raise expectations of how women are supposed to look. With apartheid they have also tainted our idea of what beauty is: straight hair, fair skin and a thin body and the perfect body. It also raises an expectation for men on what is desirable in women. We should rather teach kids that you do not have to use your body to go far in life. They should have events that encourage young girls to go to school rather than parading their bodies."
Phumeza Mlungwana of Khayelitsha says, "Contests are meant to build self-esteem. What then happens to you when you are not beautiful enough?
Are you going to feel less confident? I do not appreciate this because of the idea that is being projected. Men mostly go and watch these shows to 'appreciate' women so they only pick girls that are really beautiful." She continued, "In our culture it is weird for a woman not to cover up. Women who don't cover up get labelled."
Vithi responds, "Society has portrayed these pageants as events that groom young ladies to become well behaved and honourable young women.
Our intention in Miss Du Noon was to let the girls bring their inner and outer beauty and be able to carry themselves in a respectable manner."
Rachel Holmes is the author of The Hottentot Venus which tells the story of Saartjie Baartman. She wrote to GroundUp, "Be careful of bread and circuses--that way thoughtless populism lies. Just because people are poor and struggle for decent education doesn't mean we don't understand and deserve decent culture and entertainment without compromised values. Young women gain self-esteem from education and equal work opportunities, not from being made to believe--once again--that their worth and social role is only in their young bodies.
And men will only start respecting and valuing women when we stop acting like life is a beauty pageant. Women are tired of being respectable and carrying ourselves well. We are humans, not horses."