It’s been a few weeks since The Miss England finals were held in Torquay and the debate they provoked shows no signs of dying down. It seems as if everybody has a view they want to air.
On one side are those who think that the event was a retrograde step for Torquay particularly and who oppose beauty pageants more generally. In this camp is the Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament for Torbay, Adrian Sanders. The Honourable Member was quick off the mark in his criticisms taking to the airwaves even whilst the contest was still on. His initial objection was that the contest was poor for the image of Torquay and The English Riviera. He has since expanded upon his initial point to include objections on the grounds that such pageants are bad for the body image of the young and also public money should not have be used to subsidise such events. (Apparently Torbay Council put in a few thousand pounds of public money to support the event).
It is genuinely debatable whether the contest has done any damage to Torquay. At the back of one’s mind is Sid James in Carry on Girls promoting a beauty pageant for his own lecherous ends in seventies Britain as “women’s lib” gathers in strength. There is also a lingering naffness to beauty contests with a stirring of ghosts from Butlins in the fifties and sixties.
Perhaps the strongest argument against the contest by the opponents is the message it sends to young people. Body image is something that many young people struggle with and the examples presented in such pageants (for both men and women) are almost impossible to match for most people and can thus lead to eating disorders and the misery that they create. However, those in favour of the contest refute such points as we shall see.
Mr Sanders point about about the mis-use of public money is a hard one for Mp’s to make these days since some of the biggest squanderers of public money were those who parked their flabby bottoms on the green benches at Westminster and systematically looted public money. These are the self-same people who now think they are worthy of a 20% pay rise.
Having said all that, the supporters of the contest wildly over stated the economic benefit to The English Riviera of having the contest. Very few establishments had anyone in connected to the contest and the larger hotels such as the Imperial and Grand have reported to be out of pocket as rooms allocated to the contest remained unsold.
The supporters of the contest have pointed out that things have changed radically since the seventies and that the contest is much less about beauties in bathing suits and much more about the whole person. Charitable fundraising is central to the work of all the contestants and there is a round where contestants wear clothes made from recycled products. This might be regarded as just so much window dressing by some since fundamentally no one is going to win unless they are physically good looking and not overweight.
When it comes to the accusation that it is detrimental to young people’s self image, the supporters such as Conservative Kevin Foster quite rightly point out that much worse damage is done by teenage fashion magazines, the fashion industry and the entire celebrity mega structure that heaps impossible dreams and aspirations upon the credulous. It is possible to argue too that actually the beauty contestants provide excellent role models. They are not obese, obviously take of themselves and have aims and ambitions that might well take them to distant parts of the world. Compared to the toothless morbidly obese trackie wearing losers that parade around the Jeremy Kyle Stage most days they are indeed shining beacons of wholesomeness. Even Mr Sanders, The Tubby Member for Torbay might be thought a much less appealing role model than Jordan Williams Mr England 2013
When it comes to the arguments surrounding the financial aspects of the occasion, once again the supporters can point to the fact that several hundred entrants and supporters came to Torquay and spent their money in the Bay. The event and the conterversy surrounding it has also given the area masses of free publicity it would not otherwise have had. In terms of the public money spent on the event, Kevin Foster (who aims to take the Parliamentary seat of Torbay at the next election) also points out that the theatre is subsidised and there has hithertoo been no ciriticism of the fact that The Dream Boys strippers have appeared there (or indeed puppetry of the Penis – but we won’t go there…..)
One could also say that it is more of an outrage that on a Friday and Saturday night huge police recources (and public money) are devoted to policing the centre of Torquay as a result of the over indulgence of alchohol brought about by slack licensing laws and a culture that celebrates alcoholic excess.
The Miss England organisation does raise funds for charity (£480,000) in recent years and Torquay’s Rowcroft Hospice was a direct beneficiary of the this year’s event at The Rivieriea International Centre. At a time when public money is being squeezed the supporters of the pageant would argue that this fundraising is absolutely necessary.
It is clear that there will never be a meeting of minds between the two sides in this debate. The question locally is should we welcome the Miss England contest back here? They seem egaer to return. My view is that whilst the contest is not something I have any particular interest in or deisre to see, thee is absolutely no evidence that it does any harm at all. On the contrary, the case that it does some good is more than conclusive.
So, Miss England and Mr England please do come back and once again enjoy the hospitality and facilites of England’s wonderful Riviera.