On Beauty Queens

He who has imagination without learning has wings and no feet.

-Joseph Joubert

Photo credit: David Pecka

I got a disturbing text message from a co-worker on my way home today. She had captured a screenshot of an Instagram post that a woman who works in another department had posted of herself. I don’t have Instagram, because I never really subscribed to the selfie culture, but my co-worker will occasionally share with me the strange or funny things she comes across. This particular woman has become of interest to myself and my co-worker because of the absolutely ludicrous nature of her life, which is that by day she is an engineer and by night she is a model/beauty queen. This particular post involved a photo with a crop top, a tattoo, some not-so-tasteful underboob, and a really bland and meaningless quote about wings and roots or some crap.

Clearly, I have no leg to stand on when it comes to side hustles. And I would never want to get in the way of someone pursuing their dreams or enjoying their hobbies, even if those hobbies are patently stupid (I’m looking at you, competitive jet-skiing). My problem with this particular model is that her “issue” that she has chosen to promote through her modeling/beauty pageantry is women in STEM. For those less dorky, that is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. It’s no cure for cancer, but it’s certainly a valid issue. The encouragement of girls to go into these fields is incredibly important, and very important to me, because there are certainly not enough women in STEM now. But it strikes me as completely antithetical to use your body to promote the advancement of women using their brains.

It probably comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I have serious objections to beauty pageants in general and models on occasion. You know, I can understand modeling as art, as an appreciation of beauty, as a medium to promote other arts like fashion and photography, even as an occasional necessity for advertising, but there is also an element of exploitation there that I just can’t get behind. I try to appreciate things I don’t understand. But using self-promotion of your body as a means to promote women and girls, who are already overly judged by society on their looks, just really hassles my hoff.

Is it just me, or is this disturbingly hypocritical, if not insulting? Or maybe just a classic example of “do as I say, not as I do?” If you want to get girls to speak up in class and encourage their interest in stereotypically masculine fields, you will never do it by smiling at a camera. Maybe I’m oversimplifying, or being overly critical, but if that is what you truly want to promote, not just use as a pawn in your self-promotion scheme, then be a good engineer. Be a mentor. Go into schools and show girls that they can do it just like you did. Don’t do it for the fame or the likes, but for the girls, who will some day be your co-worker asking why the eff is this chick showing off her underboob on Instagram? Anyone who already has an aptitude for a STEM field, and therefore common sense and logic, is wondering why a professional engineer would pose half naked on the internet for all, including clients, to see and will not be somehow swayed by your sweet new ink. Any shred of respect or minute foothold you have built up for yourself at work disappears every time you snap a new booty pic. And guess what, it disappears for the rest of us as well, because you are only proliferating the societal convention that women aren’t meant to be heard, only seen. That our only value is tied directly to our appearance. Use your head, not just your ideals. You aren’t the problem, society is the problem, but you certainly aren’t helping and you can’t pretend that your promotion of women in STEM is anything but promotion of yourself. We’re onto you. Happy Belated International Women’s Day, everyone.

Quietly Seething

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