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.

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.