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When A 60 Year Old Wins Beauty Contest...

By Kanika Datta
May 16, 2024 13:29 IST
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You can sense the beauty business licking its lips.
In rapidly ageing affluent societies the search for eternal youth has been a goldmine for the purveyors of anti-ageing creams, hair dyes, botox treatments and plastic surgeons -- and that includes India, asserts Kanika Datta.

IMAGE: Alejandra Marisa Rodriguez was crowned the Miss Universe for the province of Buenos Aires. All photographs: Kind courtesy alejandramarisa.rodriguez/Instagram

Alejandra Marisa Rodriguez apparently made history by becoming the first 60-year-old contestant to win the Miss Universe Buenos Aires title.

The achievement of this journalist and lawyer, we are told, is proof that age is just a number, that she shattered stereotypes and that her victory is the Miss Universe beauty pageant's attempt at encouraging diversity, exclusivity and 'embracing beauty irrespective of age'.

Ms Rodriguez is the beneficiary of a change in the rules in 2023 to extend the age limit from 28 years to 60 years.

This was part of a desperate effort in 2023 to counter rapidly falling TV ratings by apparently updating the pageant for the 21st century.

In the same year, the pageant allowed mothers and married women to participate, also transgenders, providing they had had gender-affirming surgery.

The pageant, once owned by white males, including Donald J Trump, who consistently set new standards of Neanderthal sexism, was sold to a Thai businesswoman in late 2022. These rule changes were her effort to bring the pageant 'into the modern world'.


Ms Rodriguez obligingly played to this narrative. She represented, she said, a 'new paradigm in beauty contests' that was 'inaugurating a new stage in which women are not [judged on

This other set of values were not immediately evident at the pageant.

If anything, the basic 'universal' standards that apply to the Big Four contests -- the others being Miss World, Miss International and Miss Earth -- operated here, focusing on vital statistics, features, the ability to carry off evening gowns and bikinis and provide in 20 seconds inane rehearsed answers to absurd predetermined questions.

By these yardsticks, Ms Rodriguez may well have earned her crown. But her career as journalist and lawyer did not count for much in the scheme of things.

The more concerning and ironic element of Ms Rodriguez' victory is that the pageant's attempt to counter the accusation of ageism is likely to perpetuate it.

Ms Rodriguez's appearance is clearly an outlier for her age group. She claims to maintain herself by running, workouts and intermittent fasting (and family genes) but says nothing of the counters of cosmetics that contestants must slather on before shimmying on to the stage.

Not for her the subversive act of appearing without make-up (as one contestant recently did) exposing all her blemishes or wearing a full body suit for the swimsuit round as Ms Bahrain did last year.

The message Ms Rodriguez unwittingly sends out for older women -- that they 'should embrace beauty whatever their age' -- thus extends the maturity of 'paradigms' that society imposes on women, regardless of their achievements (sportswomen, for instance, are particularly exposed to such opinions).

You can sense the beauty business licking its lips. In rapidly ageing affluent societies the paranoia against ageing and the search for eternal youth has been a goldmine for the purveyors of anti-ageing creams, hair dyes, botox treatments and plastic surgeons for the past three decades -- and that includes India.

Unless she chooses otherwise, Ms Rodriguez is guaranteed lucrative contracts for a range of 'senior' beauty products even as she prepares to compete in the Miss Universe contest this September.

It would be easy to argue that women who patronise age-defying products and services are conforming to age-old male prejudices.

This may have been true in the 20th century. In the third decade of the 21st century, women play far more substantive roles in society to unquestioningly follow sexist stereotypes.

While changing the rules last year, a memo from the Miss Universe organisation said, 'We all believe that women should have agency over their lives and that a human's personal decisions should not be a barrier to their success.'

To be fair, that's true of women -- and men -- who choose to enter beauty pageants and follow its puerile rules.

In that sense, Ms Rodriguez, too, is exercising a personal choice by competing in the pageant. But for her victory to be plugged as one that defies stereotypes is a stretch.

If anything, she underlines why beauty pageants are anachronisms that should be abolished.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/

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Kanika Datta
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