Miss Honduras and a contestant for Miss World, María José Alvarado, 19, and her sister Sofía, 24, who were killed by Alvarado’s boyfriend Plutarco Ruiz in November of 2014. Photo from Alvarado’s Twitter account.
Among a neighborhood of countries marred by corruption and violence in pageantry, one city 99 miles from Buenos Aires, Argentina made a bold statement at the close of 2014.
The Chivilcoy City Hall passed a law that prohibits beauty pageants at Buenos Aires province’s fairs and calls on the private sector to stop promoting beauty contests. The authorities cite that pageants are discriminatory, sexist and promote violence against women.
After a 12-5 vote, popular festivals and fairs will no longer crown princesses and misses.
“These kinds of competitions among women, female teenagers and toddlers,” reads the official statement in Spanish, “reinforce the idea that women should be valued and rewarded exclusively because of their physical appearance, based on stereotypes that at the same time promote a sheer obsession for physical beauty, bulimia, anorexia, and other nutrition diseases.”
Moreover, the enacted law establishes that local authorities must promote activities that raise awareness to discourage the participation of women in pageants. Rather, at every festivity that celebrates the foundation of Chivilcoy—which usually include a pageant—residents will gather to honor individuals aged 15-30 that have stood out in charity work.
With this new law, Argentina has set a milestone in a continent that claims some of the most beautiful women in the world and simultaneously breeds horror stories of sexual objectification and gender violence. One of the most staggering cases of violence against a beauty queen took place in Honduras in November of last year, when then-Miss World contestant María José Alvarado, 19, and her sister Sofía, 24, were killed by Alvarado’s boyfriend Plutarco Ruiz. It is still unknown whether he has any connections with drug cartels or gangs.
In Ecuador in 2010, President Rafael Correa requested the Ministry of Education to ban beauty contests in public schools.
“The Ministry should not allow these senseless beauty pageants, especially in the 21st Century,” President Correa had said.
“What kind of educational values does a beauty pageant [present]? Is beauty more important than a good heart, intelligence, sacrifice and effort?” he added.
Other cities in Latin America followed suit. In 2012, Colombia’s Antioquia department declared through a decree that fashion shows, beauty pageants and any events that reward physical attributes among girls and toddlers are prohibited. The Antioquia government added that events like this do not promote ethics and talent development, and that they are “a discriminatory and humiliating activity.” In 2014, Colombia’s capital city, Bogotá, proposed a bill that also prohibits pageants, citing that they “instill violence.”
Indeed, there has been an existing connection between beauty pageants and violent drug cartels. As Colombian drug cartels peaked in the 1990s, their presence in beauty pageants was evident. Maribel Gutiérrez Tinoco, Miss Colombia 1990, relinquished her reign to marry then boyfriend and financial advisor Jairo Durán, also known as “the Monkey” in the drug trade world, who was later killed by his enemies. In another case, it was exposed that Miss Colombia 1974, Martha Lucía Echeverry, had a relationship with Miguel Rodriguez Orejuela, the “boss” of the Cali Cartel when she worked in public relations for the America de Cali soccer team.
Mexico, a country that has been rife with drug-related violence—especially in the last six years—has also been witness to the beauty pageant-drug cartel connection. Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzman, the world’s most profitable drug cartel leader, married a former Miss Sinaloa Beauty Pageant winner, Emma Coronel. In another instance in 2012, Miss Sinaloa María Susana Flores died during crossfire between her boyfriend, a feared drug lord, and the Mexican army.
The growing skepticism over the social return on investment of pageants comes at the same time as a skepticism over the economic ROI.
Previously, hosting Miss Universe and other beauty pageants has been seen as the ideal springboard for tourism, thanks to its worldwide viewership. In 1999, Trinidad and Tobago hosted Miss Universe with an aim to revamp their tourism initiatives, but their residents claim that hosting Miss Universe came at a greater cost. Since, interested countries have become less and less interested in welcoming Miss Universe, arguably the world’s most popular beauty pageant, which is spearheaded by tycoon Donald Trump and Paula Shugart. According to some sources, the cost of organizing Miss Universe hovers around $10 million, while the host nation must include location, production and amenities, often including hundreds of limousines, five-star hotel stays, flights and the acquisition of Donald Trump’s franchise rights, which cost $7 million. The high cost of hosting Miss Universe in turn fends sponsors off, because they don’t see a return of investment.
Can we really say that beauty contests are about to expire? Not in the near future, at least in Latin America. For many, beauty pageants catapult beautiful women to stardom, as many of them dream of becoming anchorwomen, singers, or telenovela actresses. As long as these competitions provide such opportunities, women are willing to participate.