Señorita Universe: Latinas Dominate 2008 Miss Universe

Dayana Mendoza of Venezuela has been crowned the 2008 Miss Universe. It is the fifth time the “honor” has been bestowed upon the oil-rick nation.

In addition, four of this year’s top ten were from Latin America: Dayana Mendoza (Venezuela); Elisa Najera (México); Taliana Vargas (Colombia); and Marianne Cruz (Dominican Republic). Also in the top ten was Claudia Moro from Spain.

I don’t want to make a big thing out of this, I mean, after all, it’s a beauty pageant. The whole thing is not only offensive to me as an ally of feminist movement, it kind of offends me as an aficionado of popular culture. I mean, beauty pageant? What is this, 1950? The fact that Donald Trump now owns the franchise is a solid indicator of where it ranks in my book.

But don’t be fooled. The thing is big news in much of the rest of the world. For an assortment of nations who often visibly struggle due to the presence of the U.S. in their political and economic arenas, any victory on the global stage is celebrated. At the same time, these kinds of contests are inseparable from the strong currents of patriarchy which find a home in both the U.S. and Latin America. Displaying “your women” and selecting the most beautiful in competition is a substantive vindication of the patriarchal impulse; It is, in this sense, a victory for men more than women.

Historically, the Latin American contestants have most often been reflective of the kinds of standards of beauty common in the United States and western Europe. What Alfred Crosby might have called a “neo-European” look, and what you and I might just call “white.” This says a lot about the power of “the West” to dictate cultural standards on the global stage. It’s a kind of cultural imperialism when you think about it.

This year’s winner is not fully the embodiment of the indigenous and other “non-white” majority of Latin America but she is neither a blond, “neo-European” beauty queen. She is far more reflective of the kinds of people living in Latin America.

Could we consider this a kind of bump back at U.S. cultural hegemony?

For some of the coverage in Latin America, see El Nacional and El Universal.

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