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
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

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