Champion Of Her Silly Activity


Champion Of Her Silly Activity

by Raywat Deonandan
July 4, 2005

This article was published in the July 29th, 2005, issue of The Toronto Star. The author retains all copyrights.


Occasionally, in a genuine effort to do the right, sensitive thing, people make the stupidest decisions. A few years ago the band, The Barenaked Ladies was banned from performing at Toronto’s City Hall because the name of the band was deemed sexist. Their detractors were too self-congratulatory in their crusading zeal to realize that the name was an innocent reference to a laddish predilection.

Well, they did it again. Last week, Toronto’s Natalie Glebova was denied permission to attend the opening of a festival at City Hall. Glebova happens to be the reigning Miss Universe, and her rejection was the result of city officials’ fear that her title would evoke concerns over sexual stereotyping. Much has been said about the revamped nature of the Miss Universe pageant: how it seeks to reduce the sexualization of its contestants and how the young ladies are judged increasingly for their intellects and attitudes as much as for their figures. But let’s be honest with ourselves: beauty queens win beauty pageants because of their great physical beauty and little else.

But here’s the thing. Being beautiful, as subjective an appraisal as that might be, is as valid a demarking characteristic as any other. It’s also a characteristic that every single human society –and every single human individual– has valued since the dawn of time. The only thing that changes is how we define beautiful. The standards of physical beauty vary across cultures and epochs, which is why the beauty queens of 50 years ago would not turn as many heads if they were in their prime today. But studies suggest that there are some universal variables contributing to our perception of beauty, youthfulness and markers of reproductive health –both largely innate characteristics– highest among them. In other words, individuals can strive to improve their physical beauty, but ultimately much of it is genetic.

The objection to the celebration of female physical beauty is one of the sexual objectification of women. And the objection to Glebova’s presence at City Hall is based upon fear of the “message” her role sends young women, specifically that one should not seek to gain fame or influence based solely upon one’s physical beauty. This strikes me as somewhat hypocritical, since our society regularly encourages us to glory in the expression of certain other genetic traits of limited social utility.

If Glebova had won a gold medal for running fast or jumping high or floating in sync with another genetically gifted individual, she’d be well feted and hoisted onto the shoulders of those who presently denounce her. But of what value are those athletic skills, really? What “message” do we send our youth by celebrating the over-indulging in physical activities of little societal value by a cadre of genetically gifted individuals we call athletes? Why, for example, do these obsessively over-conditioned people not evoke any of the same cries of poor body image projection? Surely, they and Glebova are equally representative of particular kinds of healthy, though largely unattainable, physiques.

When the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series, they were given the key to the city. A bunch of hired American millionaires were celebrated by a Canadian city for their ability to play a silly game most Canadians care little about. Yet one of our own is declared the most beautiful woman in the Universe (which, I know, is innately silly) and she isn’t allowed to open a festival in her home town. Is the foolishness of this scenario not apparent?

I don’t watch beauty pageants. I think they’re silly. But they’re no more silly than any other arbitrary contest, like baseball games and synchronized swimming. The fact remains that Natalie Glebova is the world champion of her particular silly activity. Prancing on stage in a bikini may not have any social utility, but neither does hitting a ball with a stick, floating in sync or, for that matter, winning Canadian Idol. So if we’re going to allow our champion athletes and idol singers to revel in their achievements, then we must extend the same courtesy to Natalie. After all, in the world of high level competition, only spelling bees produce champions with any truly useful skills.


Responses From Readers:


“Athletic success requires diligence”

Peter Artkin, Unionville
Toronto Star, Aug 1, 2005

If Raywat Deonandan, an international health consultant and epidemiologist, really believes that high-level competition does not develop any useful skills, we can only hope that he peddles his consultations internationally and does not publicize that he is from Canada.

He places no value on the perseverance and teamwork necessary for professional athletic success. He dismisses the ’92 Blue Jays as “a bunch of American millionaires.” That group was definitely not “a bunch” but a team, which not only achieved great success but also brought incredible joy, civility and a bonding camaraderie to our city as we celebrated their championship runs. The real beauty of athletic brilliance surpasses national borders.

Many of us fall short of our dreams but the skills we learn along the way help us to forge healthy lifestyles, provide leadership in our communities and become team-oriented problem-solvers. Is there any coincidence that extracurricular activities (especially team activities) are a prized addition to a university application?

The skills necessary to be a high performance athlete can only be produced through years of diligence. Sidney Crosby didn’t “just become” a super hockey player. As for your prized spelling skills, apparently there’s Spell Check.

Raywat Deonandan is the author of Divine Elemental (TSAR Books, 2003) and Sweet Like Saltwater (TSAR Books, 1999), winner of the national book award of the nation of Guyana.