Beauty has always been synonymous with summer and summer has always been synonymous was sensuality. Exposure is expected, so are frivolous love affairs and the normalized laziness that is advertised but contrasting these things are the sitcoms of pageantry.
The fact that the two major beauty pageants in Jamaica coincide with bikini season may not just be a coincidence. Beauty pageants have always been a right of passage for the tall, pretty girl with the summer body; you are upgraded to being beautiful if you are university educated and is selfless. Those who enter pageants solely based on their Instagram push- usually their followers fail to make the distinction between social media versus real life- may be in a class on their own, but once these women are selected and sashed as contestants, they must play parts in the show. Always smile, be poised, show girl power, chin up, it’s summer and you are now a brand representing a brand.
In the last six years the Miss Jamaica Universe brand has managed to grow above all other local pageants. It has produced a fifth place finish in Miss Universe with Kaci Fennell in 2014 and a second place finish with Yendi Phillips in 2010. Miss Jamaica World has yet to crack the top four in Miss World since Lisa Hanna’s win in 1993.
The beauty with brains tagline gives pageants modernity but make no mistake, brains are not the deciding factor. This was recently demonstrated when Krystal Tomlinson was overlooked for a top 5 placing in the Miss Jamaica World 2015 competition after taking home the sectional prizes of Most Aware, Most Congenial and Beauty in Business. The message was sent with clarity that year: brains before beauty should be left for Festival Queens.
The controversy was substantial but short lived, as are most of the components that make up Miss Jamaica competitions. Even the bikini segment does not hold a treat like it used to (Miss Teen USA plans to swap bikinis for athletic wear in 2017 because to them tights are better than skin). For one, Instagram has become a technique for overnight models and personal trainers (strength, noo weakness!) to show their qualifications, I am just too spoilt now. Forgettable too are the women who win Miss Jamaica. They disappear from our lives, they go off into the obscure wind that we never saw coming in the first place and land back in the magical place that they were before we knew them. If we are lucky sometimes they pop up at some social lunch branded with sash and crown, else we might not know who they are. A top 5 placement in the overseas pageant offers redemption though. Suddenly Miss Jamaica graduates from ornament to brand ambassador overnight and we welcome them home with open arms.
Recently the competitions have been trying to add layers. They are morphing into the sitcom that wants to add more appeal so it tries to cross over into other genres, it gets grittier, or gives us a film noir flavour but the audience does not buy it. The new thing for Miss Jamaica pageants is social impact.
As far as pageants go the Miss World Organisation has given approximately £250M to children’s charities worldwide while Miss America builds its reputation on being the world’s largest provider of female scholarships. Our Jamaican girls do not just make themselves known to their charities because of the upcoming pageant a year in advance, there is a genuine interest for the well being of their community why they usually raise the most money to date during their pageant campaign. The media and sponsors, the radical feminists and jealous weight watchers who ask, “why is Miss Jamaica still a thing? ” seem to misunderstand this influence.
For one, a lot of organisers have been reluctant to support Miss Jamaica World as today I count less than 10 major sponsors on their website even though the competition been going for forty years strong. This could explain why on their web page they do not offer but ask for donations to the charities that they endorse. Their older sibling has 20 plus sponsors yet just only recently found it’s motherly instincts when it created the Miss Jamaica Universe GO GETTER charity in 2015.
It is still a surprise that after the pageants’s efforts to add layers the Disney princess effect still reigns supreme. I only seem a catch a segment of the competitions some time after 11 pm when I am dozing (t.v. advertising for the coronation night has been on a consistent decline I’ve noticed), but I am still in awe of the beauty that I see. Blame it on the season, it makes us go wild for beauty and nothing else really. When I see the bevy of girls with their toned legs gliding in ball room gowns under perfect lighting, tossing their hair back to whip around to show teeth, other things fade, it’s like magic! Summer makes me push aside questions of the competitions’ necessity, ‘forgetability’, female objectification and half-hearted efforts at social impact. I am eating a fruit basket on a beach listening to Bob Marley tell me to stir it up. In the summer I enjoy the view. In the summer I enjoy the sitcom that comes on every night with out fail. I find my self musing at the predictability of it all yet I wait for the punch line in every episode.
Footnotes: On Emancipation day 2016 police were summoned to Johns Hall, a Williamsfield district in St James, to find two dead bodies. One body they would have recognized as that of 19 year old Devane James, a man who they had questioned and released earlier that day regarding the mysterious disappearance of the second body. At the scene the police saw that the second man had become a corpse, the body was was identified as that of Devane’s father. The story goes that after the police had released Devane, some community members were unsatisfied so they trailed him, harassed him, digged around his house, his yard, found his father’s decomposing body in his his back yard and Devane was hacked to death by a mob. I guess my point is that it never fails to puzzle me how Jamaican residents always seem to outshine the police department when it comes to commitment to a cause (even though their idea of ‘justice’ involves defending the honour of an already dead man). As for Devane James, someone should have told him that heartlessness is useless unless paired with common sense.