‘Skin Exposure’, the Female Body, and Pageantry

SLUT SHAMING OR A QUESTION OF DECENCY? Let us address the latest controversy we all witnessed played out on Instagram.
By this time we hope everyone has calmed down to hear each other out on a very polarizing topic. When we posted a #chichiandchaah/ blind item poking sarcasm and humor at some pageant candidates’ risque photos, majority of the comments were not in favor of the risque photos… but we were also met with strong opposition and admonition from several fans and pageant accounts.
While being liberal on one’s body and body positivism is to be celebrated, the overt exposure of ‘too much skin’ or the female body in the realm of pageantry is still generally frowned upon by the pageant community at large. A stark contrast to male pageants where one’s physicality is overly promoted (there will be a separate blogpost on the topic later). Why is that? We can only offer possible explanations not outright answers.
NOTE: We will be talking about pageantry in general unless specified otherwise in the course of the blogpost.
How Far can Women Expose their Bodies in Pageantry?
When we are asked how much skin can women expose in pageantry, we can only say there is no definitive answer to that. No pageant ever has specified in their candidate contracts that says “a candidate cannot expose more that 30% of a butt-cheek, nor a collective exposure of more than 40% of both butt globes be visible in any photo is to be made public“, or “a candidate can expose the side of a boob along the provision that no nipple and/or areola is exposed, implied, or visible“, or “a candidate and/or her team cannot release photos of the candidate that shows her vagina or impressions of her vagina“, etc… Such specific guidelines have not yet been made, or if it does exists they are never made public. Although we are led to believe about the former rather than the latter.
In contrast, Hollywood contracts would detail in how much an actor can show skin. Just watch the scene in the movie Notting Hill how Julia Robert explains nudity clauses in contracts to Hugh Grant’s character. Everything is detailed and made aware of. And that is a major source of confusion among pageant fans, handlers and candidates alike. With no such existing guidelines for pageants, it is too difficult to track how much ‘skin exposure’ is too much.
A Wider Market to Serve
Pageants are generally targeted towards a wide audience and has been traditionally given a “general patronage” to “parental guidance” tag on its finals telecast. However, the pageant winner’s duties extend beyond and serves as a spokesperson for the pageant organization herself. Her duties mainly includes public speaking, charity work, sponsor promotional events, etc… and perhaps a handful runway shows, magazine covers and other social parties here and there. Hence, a pageant girl needs to be able to communicate to a wide array of people from kids to adults in different walks of life.
Imagine explaining to young minors the concept of how body positivism works in the context of pageantry. Because kids follow, copy and do what their role models do, there is placed a bigger responsibility for pageant girls to become aspirational in all aspects.
Her appeal then must be to a broader market, not just male audiences. This is specially true when there are major corporate sponsors of the pageant. Product promotions and endorsements by beauty pageant winners are a major cash cow for pageants. In 2019, it is rumored that the fee MUOrg charges to brands wanting get Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray to promote their product/ brand is on the 7-figure mark. And that’s in US dollars. So image is very important in these endorsements and a tainted/tarnished image not only affects the pageant’s reputation but also its financial bottom-line.

Pageant Requirement: OF GOOD MORAL CHARACTER
It is for the above reasons that is why one of the most common phrases seen in job postings is the requirement to be of “good moral character”. It is actually a catch-all phrase that may include behavior and activities that may pertain to morality, decency, appropriate behavior, appropriate dress, decorum, etc…  This vague and generic phrase could actually mean anything that the job poster would mean it is. That is why pageant old-timers & observers call it as the ‘decency clause’ or ‘morality clause’ of the pageant organization.
In the Miss Universe Philippines Application Form, this fine print can be read as:
The Contestant shall at all times comply strictly with THE MISS UNIVERSE PHILIPPINES, INC. specifications and/or requirements (whether oral or written) as to her appearance, physical characteristics, skills, attire and/or accessories. A failure to meet such specifications and/or requirements shall result in disqualification from her participation in the National Pageant. For the avoidance of doubt, THE MISS UNIVERSE PHILIPPINES, INC. the right to disqualify the Contestant from the National Pageant on the grounds of undesirable conduct and/or appearance.
The older 2012 Binibining Pilipinas application form has taken this one step further as a candidate has to declare that:
I have never participated in any bold/burlesqueshows, plays, movies, publications or activities, or such show, play, movie, publication or activity, which in the sole opinion and discretion of BPCI, is inconsistent with my application with the 2012 Pageant, run counter against the social and moral principles upon which the Pageant is founded upon, and/or bring disrepute or embarrassment to BPCI or any of its sponsors.
Reading the above fine print, you can see how BPCI takes steps further to dialo in safe-guarding the reputation of the pageant as well as its sponsors. We have written about this topic previously on this article.
The ‘decency clause’ is a protection for both parties so that neither the pageant nor the prospective candidate be gossiped on, specially on social media, and cause mental distress on both parties. But in essence the decency clause is a protection designed specifically in favor of the pageant organization. Their pageant, their rules. This is why pageant girls must abide by their rules and regulations.
The Controversy on Instagram
Pageant bloggers such as myself still find it uncomfortable to tell pageant girls what they are doing wrong on social media. Unless a prior relationship has been established, we cannot point blankly message and tell them that they are exposing too much skin or that they should not be engaging directly with trolls and haters. That is an awkward conversation for anyone. And we also doubt that they will sift through hundreds of DMs in their Instagram and respond to all of those messages in their Primary, General and DM Request folders. In most cases, our DMs may just fall deaftly under the request folders.
Our #chichiandchaah posts are always meant to poke humor and sarcasm on pageant’s latest issues/  trending topics, stir a reaction, cause a commotion to dialogue and discourse, expose a scandal or a scandalous behavior… but it never explicitly exposes pageant candidates by naming them. In this case the Chichi&Chaah post has not named any of the ‘allegedly 4-6 girls that have posted risque photos‘. It was some of the younger newbie pages and newbie pageant fans that made assumptions who were those candidates. And to some extent, ‘outed’ them even when some of the girls they posted on their IG stories weren’t even the ones being talked about. Making assumptions is a dangerous game.
The worse part here was that the risque photos were published by the candidates and their handlers without going through the pageant organization’s review. And with the fine print on their candidacy applications, some may have violated the decency clause and may possibly  end up in a disqualification from the contest.
Do You Want to be a Queen? Act Like One.
Taking in all of those considerations, when pageant girls pose provocatively in their published swimsuits, there will always be a strong discourse on the limits of exposing skin within the context of pageantry. In reality, the entire pageant community expect pageant girls and winners to behave a certain manner akin to the royal families of old. Pageant queens are considered and treated as royalty, and the trade-off for that is conforming to the current socially accepted norms of decorum and proper behavior. If you want to be a queen, then you are expected to behave and act like a queen.
In reality, despite pageants being more modern nowadays, an overtly sexualized image/ reputation for a pageant girl is not yet socially accepted. Is that fair? Not a bit, but pageant girls become instant celebrities and are treated as queens by pageant fans. Hence the community expects from them what they would expect from a crowned queen.
And we cannot blame society or age old traditions for that. Sometimes traditional institutions take time to get in sync with the current social movements. It is a long and difficult process to veer away from decades long traditions, specially for pageants that have been in existence since the early 1900’s; with the likes of Senorita Colombia that has been in existence since 1934, Miss America founded in 1921 and Miss France formed in 1920. To this day, the Miss France still bars women with nude/ topless photos to enter the pageant. Even the relatively younger Miss World established in 1951 have removed the swimsuit competition in their pageant, even explaining that it’s no longer what the pageant stands for.
As mentioned earlier, no provisions on the extent of ‘skin exposure’ is made accessible to the general public, so it is best to take precaution in terms of how much skin a candidate is to show off. We advise that it is best to be in the safe side rather than to push the envelop as pageants & pageant organizations have a blanket authority on what they would deem as acceptable or within bounds of common decency.

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