Beauty Queens – And what they could mean

“Beauty has so many flavors and shades” –Queen Latifah
Nitasha Biswas, Miss Transqueen India, with Loiloi, the First Runner-Up, Ragasiya, the Second Runner-up, and Laeticia Raveena, Miss Transexual Australia International 2017. Picture courtesy: Instagram/transartforall

When Kolkata’s Nitasha Biswas was crowned India’s First Miss Trans Queen on August 30th, 2017, at Gurgaon, the fifteen other beauty queens were also declared “winners”, by the pageant, as a recognition of their identity. The glamour and popularity of the event, the supportive crowd, and the safe space and empowerment provided to the trans-women who participated in Miss Trans Queen India, led to the creation of more of these Transgender Beauty Pageants, notably Queen of Dhwayah held at Kochi. These pageants often become a space where trans-women (sadly, there has not yet been a counterpart of these pageants for trans-men in our country) gain the visibility they require to empower themselves and become part of a community.

Picture courtesy: Aghil Menon/WtzupCity Kochi

Since their inception, beauty Pageants in general had garnered attention and has been followed with great interest by the public eye. The public has always had a bittersweet relationship  with the idea of them; while conventional pageants like Miss World and Miss Universe are popular with an established fan-following, they have also been looked down upon for the objectification of female bodies, their shallow, narrow ideals of outward beauty.

However, it is interesting to note that pageants like Miss Transqueen India and Queen of Dhwayah are created to break conventional standards of bodies and gender constraints and beauty, rather than to follow them. They celebrate the beauty of the transgender identity, the beauty of the bodies these women have been condemned and marginalized for, creating an alternative to what conventional beauty pageants often do. Under the outward prettiness of the event lie the stories of strength and courage through which these women have come.

Obviously, these pageants for trans-women work very closely with the fashion, film, media and beauty industries. The news reports concerning the pageants include an interesting list of film personalities , politicians, stylists, models and make-up artists among the audience and behind the stage. The exposure provided by these pageants then, also act as another call to these industries to be more inclusive and tap into the potential of trans-women as well. India’s fashion industry has slowly been opening doors for the transgender community.

Earlier this year, the Kathmandu-born model Anjali Lama became the first trans-woman to walk the ramp at the Lakme Fashion Week at Mumbai, the event declaring itself “tag-free.”

Despite the success of the events, it is yet to be seen whether it is merely a symbolic success, or if it does translate to real-life, practical empowerment. It is up to the various industries involved in the events to take it upon themselves to accept these beauty queens and provide them with ample platform to take their career forward. In that sense, these events question the idea of beauty, of womanhood, of gender, and what fashion must come to mean.  These questions are to be answered by the industry, the society, by each and every one of us. Perhaps the answers will not come to us immediately, but questions have been asked, and that is a good step forward.

Veronica Campabell also became India’s first plus-size transgender model this year. The organization of beauty pageants for trans-women is another heartening step in this direction.

More and more of these pageants will surely encourage more trans-women to come forward and participate, to take the opportunity. But what of those transgender people who do not have the access to these platforms?  What of trans-men, who have yet to find firm footing in any industry in our society?

Alternatively, what if these steps towards inclusion were taken within other industries as well? Aside from beauty pageants, what if there were science exhibitions, art galleries, literary festivals, manufacturing units, political discussions, scholarly conferences and so on, including transgender people, to create an awareness of who they are and what they can do.

Would these platforms be similarly accepted, praised, popularized and understood? Would major companies step forward to offer support? Would it create relevant exposure, change at least a few influential minds? The one way to find out is to create these platforms, promote them, and provide opportunities to the transgender people of our country and around the world to express themselves not just terms of their gender, but also in terms of who they are, as individuals.

Written by: Uma Madhu.