Anyone over the age of 70 might remember a group of feminists dramatically flour bombing the 1970 Miss World competition.
The group was protesting at a contest that objectified women. Miss World then was broadcast on the BBC and was one of the biggest TV events of the year — the feminists made headlines all over the world. Now, the idea a beauty contest being scheduled alongside Strictly on a BBC One Saturday evening is unthinkable.
The beauty pageant though has survived this lack of major TV profile and last weekend Chloe McEwen, a 21-year-old woman from Harrogate, was crowned Miss Yorkshire. She will go through to compete in the Miss England contest next year.
In a world where even Barbie has had a feminist makeover, could the same be said for the beauty contest? Chloe’s story of being crowned Miss Yorkshire got hundreds of likes on the Stray Ferret’s social media post and noticeably no jibes. Chloe says her small group of close friends have embraced her doing it:
“They’ve all genuinely been really supporting towards me, no one has had anything negative to say.”
Chloe has a powerful story to tell. At the age of 16 she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Such were the severity of her symptoms she spent eight months in hospital and gained four stone in weight.
“When I got out of there I was so depressed, so filled with anxiety, worried about what people would think of me. I went from this petite, pretty girl to having all this weight on me. Some people didn’t recognise me. It really knocked my confidence.
“I cut my circle of friends really small, focussed on myself and my health; getting into the gym little by little and slowly building up to being a personal trainer”.
Instagram and YouTube though are full of young women using social media to campaign and spread messages. Why did she chose a beauty contest to get her message across?
“If you’d have told me four years ago when I got out of hospital I would be doing this, I would have said not in a million years.
“For me to even get to a point of having enough confidence to compete — I want to spread the message that no matter where you are in life and you haven’t got that confidence, if you work on yourself, you can do something like a beauty contest.”
The rules for entering the Miss England contest are clear — you have to be between 16 and 27 years old and unmarried. It’s described now though as ‘beauty with a purpose’. The winner needs to have a powerful narrative and raise money for the organisation’s charity. Chloe says ‘there are plenty of beautiful girls out there but if you haven’t got that strong message, they’re not going to pick you nowadays”.
Soroptimist International is an organisation that looks after the interests of women and girls. It has an active Harrogate and district branch – with members who will remember the 1970s fight for equal rights.
The local communications officer, Lesley Berry, said in 2021 the organisation’s annual conference heard from 33-year-old Dr Carina Tyrrell – a former Miss England who is a first class honours Cambridge graduate and respected public health physician who worked on the development of covid vaccines.
Ms Berry said:
“We want people to do whatever they want to as long as nobody is exploiting them or forcing them to do it. If it is something you want to do when you’re young.
“This young lady seems to be doing it to enhance her confidence and spread awareness of the issues she’s overcome. That is a positive message”.
In an age where women’s empowerment is about individual choice, Chloe McEwen has chosen her way of spreading her message. She hopes that, with so many young women suffering from anxiety, it works and has impact.
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