By Felicity McKee
I am an activist, a fundraiser for charity, a public speaker, a lover of animals, an actress, a pageant contestant and a feminist.
Yes, I did say feminist.
Many people, a lot of whom define themselves as feminists denounce pageants and yet they themselves do not know the reasons a person enters or the reality of being involved. They would rather loudly denounce the flaws and not acknowledge the good pageants can do.
Before I was involved in pageants I would have assumed that it was simply a case of men ogling women and giving into patriarchy, the reality is far different.
The pageants I have been involved in give me a sense of sisterhood, we all get a long, we become lifelong friends and we are there because we want to be. It is our choice and this is a choice that needs and deserves to be respected.
The main audience members are family and friends who are there to support us, not merely to view our bodies, our appearance or our opinions on ‘world peace’. I actually like dressing up and performing, if not already displayed by my acting jobs.
I admit I was hesitant about swimwear rounds, and not because of men viewing me, but people viewing me in general, as I am in recovery from an eating disorder. However despite my nerves and worries, I found it an incredible boost to my self-esteem and went on to win the swimwear category! I didn’t win that round merely on my body size and shape but on my accessorising and poise at that moment, it wasn’t based on a European ideal of beauty but on the confidence I managed to exude in that moment, to show the world that this body is worthy of love and that all shapes and sizes are beautiful.
Before anyone suggests that my eating disorder was related to the media and the images they convey of the ideal woman, let me assure you that this is not the case, eating disorders have been shown to have a genetic and biological basis and while this may contribute to some peoples development of an eating disorder, it was not the case with me and to assume or give this one reason the major emphasis is perpetuating a dangerous idea.
Now I’m not saying there are no flaws to beauty pageants, but there are flaws in many things and while they can give a false ideal as to what is considered beautiful, this isn’t really always the reality but a commercial outsider view of pageantry. Pageants can give women (and men!) access to opportunities to gain skills in public speaking, champion causes close to their heart and gain access to education via scholarships.
My involvement in the Rose of Tralee, as Miss University of Ulster and now as Ms Ulster and Miss Queens University Belfast has given me opportunities and the ability to champion causes that I find important in areas I might not otherwise have had access to.
I personally use my pageantry to show that disabilities aren’t always visible but can be physical, mental, and sensory or learning related and I’m not afraid to wear my heart monitors along with my ball gowns.
I do not compete for men to stare at me; I compete because I want to and because I choose to. I compete because of the opportunities it opens up for me and for the causes I want to raise awareness for.
I want to know why it is deemed ok by many feminists to say I should be able to choose my own path, and then denounce the path I choose to take. As women we are constantly told we need to be either more or less feminine, such as less feminine for certain roles or jobs or more feminine and wear certain clothes and yet despite this being an issue, who should define my gender identity and how I want to define it other than myself? Society and the opinions of others should not pressurise me into some ideals held by others when it isn’t something that I can relate to.