Olivia Culpo, a 20-year-old student from Boston University, became the first American to win the Miss Universe title in 15 years on Wednesday night in Las Vegas.
Miss Philippines, Janine Tugonon, came in second, while Miss Venezuela, Irene Sofia Esser Quintero, finished third.
Beauty pageants have long been under attack by feminists, liberals and others who are appalled by what they perceive as the “objectification” and “exploitation” of young women.
Allow me to present a contrarian view.
I see nothing wrong with beauty contests, nor do I think they “corrupt” society's values nor “degrade” women.
Beauty, like intelligence and talent, is a God-given characteristic one is born with it – you either have it or you don't.
Thus, if some people “resent” the good looks and elegance of young beauty queens, should they not also “resent” the brilliance of scientists and doctors who win Nobel Prizes?
Similarly, we admire and idolize (and extravagantly compensate) professional athletes for their wondrous physical abilities. Yes, these people have to practice and train -- without their inborn, innate talent, their skills could never flourish.
For example, no matter how much I practice. I will never be able to play basketball like Lebron James or Kobe Bryant.
I don't see many people complaining about how Lebron and Kobe have been “exploited” by the system.
I realize scientific and medical achievements are extremely important to humankind, whereas beauty pageants and sports add little or nothing to the welfare of humanity.
But, human beings admire and celebrate physical beauty – we always have and we always will.
Why is Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, now a global icon? Is it because she is so intelligent, or has cured cancer or discovered a new element? No, it's because she is an extraordinarily beautiful young woman (oh, and the wife of the future King of England).
Before anyone accuses me of chauvinism, let me point out that the same concept applies to men, For example, why are George Clooney and Salman Khan global superstars? Because they are such “great actors” and “humanitarians”? Indeed not, it's because they are extremely handsome men who represent a kind of “ideal.” Most men do not look like them, and never will. So, why are they not as resented as female beauty queens are?
Similarly, Michelangelo's “David” is hailed as an immortal masterpiece of art. But David, too, is an “ideal” – an unrealistic, unreachable symbol of masculine beauty and form. Is not David also being "objectified"? Should we ban David, too, because most men don't look like him?
I was born in a country (India) where beauty pageants are practically a “religion” – so, perhaps I am biased. My sister participated in beauty contests when she was young and the experience certainly hasn't “ruined” her life.
Beauty queens are revered in India and often become the attractive “face” of the country for the outside world.
The overwhelming majority of these girls freely choose to compete in beauty pageants on their own will (while, in some cases, they are indeed pushed into by their mothers).
Nevertheless, the point is, they are neither “coerced” nor “forced” into it.
Some critics have actually compared beauty pageants to a kind of “pornography” – a patently absurd premise.
Beauty pageants have little or nothing to do with overt sexuality or eroticism (no, not even the swimsuit competitions). They are (by and large) elegant and respectable affairs.
I will concede that beauty pageants which seek to “sexualize” under-age girls (like the tragedy of JonBenet Ramsey) are a horror that should be banned.
But, generally speaking, beauty pageants (as long as they are tasteful) are harmless, pleasant diversions.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.