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Are Beauty Pageants Body Positive?

Ashley Graham and Julianne Hough discuss this year’s Miss USA pageant.
PHOTO: Judy Eddy/

When it comes to beauty pageants, people are often divided.

Are they empowering or degrading?

At this year’s Miss USA, Julianne Hough, who is a host and creative producer, weighed in on the issue: “I get that cringe-worthy negative connotation, a competition to see who is the most beautiful.” One of the reasons why people question whether or not there is empowerment in pageantry is the swimsuit competition. Hough was quick to defend it. "There is the whole thing of being confident in the fact you worked hard to get that body and you go to the gym and you eat healthy and do certain things. It’s no different if you are going to the beach.”

The problem, however, goes beyond that. It’s the fact that it presents a narrow view of women’s bodies, like we should all look like that at the beach. No one can deny that that kind of representation, whether it means to or not, sets a standard.

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The pageant’s backstage host, Ashley Graham, echoed these sentiments. She notes that her mere presence is surprising but important as it’s a step towards the right direction: "I think by having me host backstage, it's opened up this door and this question of, 'Well, why haven't we had anybody?' What is stopping us from having a very curvaceous woman come in and win Miss USA or even be a contestant?'"

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Hough did note that moving forward, she is hoping for a more progressive and productive way for beauty pageants to empower women, admitting that “there’s [definitely still some] work to be done.”

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