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International business and Beauty Pageants

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In the heat of Miss Universe pageant in Las Vegas, 83 young women from all over the world are currently competing to be named the most beautiful woman in the entire universe. The main question, for me, is why do young modern women want to participate in a beauty pageant? The world has changed tremendously in the last 20 years. Gender equity has become a reality in the contemporary human society. In the world where a number of women struggle to fight for equal rights with men, there are still a number of young women who take beauty pageant as a strategic way to improve their life qualities. Feminist theory is couched in an idea that emphasizes the effect of instruments of domination in a world in which gender is a central organizing principle through which individuals negotiate the course of their everyday lived experience. If we think carefully, beauty pageants at national and international levels (i.e. Miss USA, Miss World, and Miss Universe) are instruments of male domination at a structural level, and yet they can also be spaces of female empowerment and social mobility.

In South America, Eastern Europe and South East Asia, beauty pageants are a norm for social mobility for women. The victory over a sash and crown means a life-changing situation, an opportunity to become famous, to be in a media limelight, or even to become the community leader. Clearly, this situation hardly happens in most developed nations where beauty pageants are perceived as an outdated form of entertainment. Having established the situation of global pageants, the culture of beauty pageants remains popular worldwide.

What interests me is the links between international business and the use of modern women in global commercial activities (through beauty pageant culture). Without sponsorship and business support, the culture of beauty pageants may fade away from the contemporary world pop-culture. In an event where people try to simplify the complexity of beauty by judging a women on their poise and grace, appearances and manner, women are asked to dress and perform in certain way. This is, to me, a promotion of social inequity among human beings. My next question is "who is behind this business?"

Back in those old days of the Miss Universe pageant, Catalina swimwear was the major sponsor of the event. In fact, it was Catalina that created the pageant as a platform to promote their products worldwide. When we examine the major sponsors for 2010 Miss Universe pageant, it does not surprise us to see global brands of cosmetics, hair products, swimwear, jewelry, fashions and footwear as the key sponsors for the event. The global segmentation of female consumers is far too attractive to miss. Sponsoring a global beauty pageant where women are judged on their appearance, hence, becomes ethical from the global business perspectives. Donald Trump, the owner of the Miss Universe organization, is clearly a clever business person who uses the beauty of women to promote his business networks and himself.

In the realm of corporate social responsibility, international companies are required to show their support and responsibility to the community. The most popular strategies include environmental issues, educational development, health promotion and welfare of their staff members and community. The United Nations' Business and Human Rights Resource Center stated in their mission that:

"A human rights approach requires companies to respect all human rights; they do not have the option of picking and choosing to deal with only those issues with which they feel comfortable. A human rights framework provides a universally recognised, people-centred approach to companies' social & environmental impacts."

If social (and gender) equity is perceived as a fundamental human right,then international business organizations that support beauty pageants fail to promote human rights. Basically, most international beauty pageants treat female contestants as objects of entertainment. They are asked to perform in the social norms that are created mostly by men. Why do we want to see all women walk, dress and speak in the same pattern? Promoting diversity is the sustainable way to promote human rights and gender equity. Perhaps, this is time for us to question the role of international business organizations that support such activity as international beauty pageant. What are their social responsibilities? What role do they play to promote equity and fairness in our society?

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Nattavud Pimpa is a senior lecturer in international management at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University) in Australia. He is also on
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