Miss World titleholder Megan Young. Photo: Jay Director/AFP/Getty
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Would you enter your unborn daughter in a beauty pageant?

By virtue of being female she’s already been entered into a lifelong beauty contest, one which, through the simple fact of ageing, she is ultimately destined to lose. Why not formalise it from the start?

A three-month-old baby has become Britain’s youngest beauty pageant entrant. According to the Sunday Post, “doting mum Amanda entered Luna into the competition before she was even born after becoming overwhelmed at her 20-week hospital scan”:

The 28-year-old said: ‘As soon as I saw her image on the screen at my antenatal session I knew she was a stunner. I always knew that I was carrying a girl and a beautiful one at that.’

While she may have got in earliest as far as gestation is concerned, it turns out Amanda is not the first expectant mother to have done this. The Mail reports on a mother in Blackpool signing up her seven-month-old foetus for the Miss Natural Sparkle UK contest. While it’s true that the girls had already been born by the time they came to be judged, you start to think it’s only a matter of time before it’s done on ultrasound pictures alone.

And why not? If your foetus is a girl, you might as well get in there while she’s still got a chance of enjoying some brief triumph. By virtue of being female she’s already been entered into a lifelong beauty contest, one which, through the simple fact of ageing, she is ultimately destined to lose. So why not formalise it right from the start, as soon as you know your offspring to be a member of the objectified class? At least then she might get some training in the art of being purely decorative. She may even win a prize, providing you make an early start. After all, babies are cute, and toddlers too, but it’s not long before even the sparkliest little poppet is past it.  

We might continue to feed little girls a Disney Princess myth of blossoming into “beautiful womanhood” but the reality is, of course, nothing like this. By early adolescence – with the arrival of body odour and vaginal discharge, blocked sebaceous glands and traces of underarm hair – you are already past your pristine, doll-like prime. By the time you hit puberty full-on, complete with blackheads, bristling pubic hair and blood-stained pants, all the artifice which, for a little girl, is “fun” has become “necessity”. You thought you had been dressing up as preparation for “real womanhood” but this experience of realness never comes. Instead the game of let’s pretend becomes more and more arduous: cleanser, toner, moisturiser, serum, primer, foundation, concealer, powder, botox, collagen, knife, and still none of it works. Womanhood remains a process of constant acquisition: wrinkles, open pores, grey hairs, stretch marks, body fat, age spots, varicose veins (but neither wisdom nor experience – such things build in men, but pass straight through women, making room for the projections of everyone else).

Criticisms of child beauty pageants often focus on the notion of early sexualisation, with the implication being that it is now all a question of consent. While some feminists still protest outside Miss World, there has been nothing to rival the Miss America protest of 1968. On the contrary, it’s often argued that it’s judgmental to be against pageants per se. Don’t these women choose to enter? Aren’t you just jealous because you’re not beautiful yourself? Yet this is to pretend that pageants judge “being beautiful” in the same way that one might judge “being good at gymnastics” or “being a piano virtuoso”. This isn’t how beauty works. I’m useless at all three of these things but there is only one of them at which I am nevertheless expected to succeed. Moreover, the piano virtuoso is genuinely good at playing piano. Miss World isn’t “good at” being Miss World; her talents lie elsewhere, perhaps to be alluded to during the brief interview part of the contest. What she is rewarded for is pretending to be the non-existent Barbie woman of someone else’s dreams. She fits the mould, albeit temporarily, and that is all. 

My sons are at an age where they see make-up as a source of creativity (unlike many girls of the same age, who are already starting to fret about “the rules”). They like having their nails painted and they are curious when they see me applying eye shadow and blusher. More than once they have asked me why, if I put on make-up every day, I don’t occasionally do something more adventurous – can’t I make myself up like a tiger, or a pirate, or a witch? I tell them it’s not allowed. The “creativity” in which I indulge – blue mascara or black, pink lips or red – is strictly circumscribed and always overlaid with a sense of failure (why am I even trying, given that I will continue to look like me, only older?). I don’t want to take part in this contest but I don’t know how to opt out (or rather, I do – severely anorexic, I never thought to wash my hair, let alone apply foundation – but if that is the only way out of the pressure to “be a woman” I’d rather submit).

It is easy to look at made-up little girls and beauty queen babies while tutting about “too much, too young”. But when is it the right age for this artifice? In a world that doesn’t want women to grow up – our body hair is ugly, our fertility inconvenient, our experience irrelevant – aren’t little girls what we really want? And if this is repulsive, why are we not also repulsed to see women fighting the signs of adulthood and ageing with all their might?  Why do we mock them instead? Our attitude towards womanhood and beauty is deeply misogynist, whatever the age under discussion. Yes, it is disturbing that foetuses are being entered into beauty contests, but perhaps this is only because it makes obvious what we already know: from the moment you are identified as female, your name’s already on the list. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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