Lancaster Feminists, were, undertandably, disappointed to hear that the Lancaster Grand Theatre has been booked for the Miss Morecambe 2011 regional heat for the Miss England competition. Disappointment turned to disgust when they saw that the eating disorder charity B-Eat was featured as a partner on the competition website.
Studies consistently show that competitors in beauty pageants suffer significantly higher rates of eating disorders and that our society's preoccupation with body image is driven by a fashion and beauty industry to the detriment of health, particularly in women, who are an intensely targeted market.
Pageant organisers have tried to deflect criticism by including sections in the competition in which competitors may display their talents and interests. However, your chances of seeing a well-padded renaissance woman make it through the regional heats into the Miss England competition are as skinny as its eventual winners have invariably been. And while titles reflecting solid achievement, such as 'Dr' or 'Captain' are not a bar to 'Mr' competitions, entry rules state that a Miss Morecambe entrant must be a person "who usually uses the prefix Miss."
Some say that it is a cynical move on the part of pageant organisers to offer 'support' to eating disorder charities such as B-Eat, who are constantly in need of funds to support members in desperate circumstances. Acceptance of this support is treated by organisers as an endorsement of their competition's relative 'healthiness'.
Imagine if Cancer Care got a donation from United Tobacco, and United Tobacco then took that as an endorsement by Cancer Care that cigarettes are good for you. And then went on to make a special brand of 'healthy-teen' cigarettes!
Questioned about their relationship with B-Eat, the organisers at the Miss Morecambe and Miss Teen Morecambe website told Virtual-Lancaster that, "We are just finalising the details on a huge and exciting increase to our support for B-EAT in 2011."
However Mary George from B-Eat tells us that they have no connection with the competition this year though she's grateful for past support. The charity is still featured as a partner on the competition website but, when asked, neither side seems able to comment on what support has actually been given, or on what terms.
Mary George tells us: "All too often nowadays we are bombarded with images of unrealistic body shapes which bear very little resemblance to the majority of women and the competition organisers are keen to get the message across that natural womanly curves should be celebrated." She just doesn't seem to recall how they do that. Asked if she would be recommending entry to either pageant for any of her members, she declined to comment.
There is no mention on the Miss Morecambe site of such a celebration though the website does make clear that entrants will feature in The Sun and the News of The World newspapers.
Accounts by former models and beauty queens of their struggles to conform to an unnatural fashion ideal of female 'beauty' to the detriment of health and sanity make tragic reading. It makes no sense that a model competition that feeds and capitalises on the fashion industry's obsession with body image, and in itself promotes competition and the ranking of 'winners' and 'losers', should be endorsed by an eating disorder charity largely consisting of casualties of that same obsession.
The media tells women we have to wear wonky little shoes that damage our feet, hurt us, and slow us down, or crazy, flappy, pink clothes that have nothing to do with the temperature and everything to do with making you look like a set of frilly curtains, and bombards us with images of lissome, fragile, female bodies doing just that. The message is that this is what makes a 'winner'. The thousands of women who've been suckered by this message to the detriment of thair health and self-respect rely on hard-working charities like B-eat to help them repair their damaged bodies and souls.
It's time the name of B-eat disappeared from the list of Miss Morecambe partners. We should all back away from the beauty pageant industry and its abuse of the dignity and intrinsic value of all people in our community, whatever their role in this mean charade.
And they have no right at all to start calling it 'Miss Morecambe & Lancaster' as they have begun to do. Lancaster wants no part of this sleazy trade.
Image courtesy of the Miss England website.