Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Miss Landmine Angola

In places in the world that have experienced war, especially if protracted as in Angola, bodies are far less likely to be "whole" and more likely be missing limbs. Even here in the West, people with disabilities are too often invisible, and a "whole" or "perfect" body is a precondition for the designation "beautiful". When was the last time you saw a model in a magazine or an actress on television who was missing a limb, or was even in a wheelchair? Can we not bear the fact that bodies reflect their experiences, sometimes in very visible ways? Would we rather the scars stay psychological, intimate, secret - so we don't have to be invested in others' pain? Or can we not wrap our minds around the fact that a wounded body does not necessarily mean a victim to be pitied? Do we not also then miss out on something important - the strength and bravery and, indeed, beauty of survivors?

A line at the upper left-hand corner of the picture reads "Everybody has the right to be beautiful." The woman standing below is surely that, dressed in beauty-pageant regalia, Atlantic waves meeting Angolan sands behind her. She is Miss Landmine Angola 2007. Showcased in the photograph are the attributes classically aligned with feminine beauty: high cheekbones, full lips, a curvaceous figure. Yet it is what the photograph, shot from the waist up, hides that makes her beauty a thing unparalleled, unusual, both tragic and wonderful. The lower half of her left leg is missing, a testament to her encounter with a landmine. She is one of several women featured in the Miss Landmine Angola project to raise awareness about the world's plague of landmines and to empower those who have survived them. Learn about the project and see this year's contestants at Via Utne

Whatever one thinks of beauty pageants, this one has a positive message. The crowning of the world's first Miss Landmine will be taking place in Luanda, Angola on April 4th, 2008, the UN International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action. Vote for candidates here.



Unknown said...

I would have to question if it's really that positive to be defined by the violation that was done to you--for example, would we have "Ms. rape victim"? Or "Ms. Car Crash"? And I wonder why beauty pageants are not demeaning when their for disabled women? Do disabled women not feel the same injustices of being defined by their looks as able bodied women? Is it possible that these pageants are the only way for these women to make money?

Unknown said...

I mean, I can see the good--but I wonder if the needs of the women are really being prioritized here--and specifically, the needs of women who have been disabled by violence? I think we need to be more critical of things being done 'for' the disabled community--I'm reluctant to say something is good for disabled people that many feminists regard as 'bad' for able bodied people. Is this just another way of fetishizing disabled bodies (which are always on public display by virtue of their difference).

Unknown said...

just to continue--the emblem "everybody has the right to be beautiful"--shouldn't it really read, everybody has the right to not have their bodies blown to shreds?

Red Jenny said...

I certainly take your point, as I was a little unsure what to make of this at first, but when I thought it through I thought that this was a) a potentially very effective awareness campaign, and b) subversive, not unthinking.

It's only subversive because of our fucked up relationship to the body, of course - the same way that plus size models in a fashion magazine are subversive. They are still on display, they are still objectified, etc but they also subvert those things in that moment of dissonnance.

Dark Daughta said...

Hi R.J.,
I think the comparison to plus sized models might be flawed in that plus sized models haven't necessarily become fat by being aggressed. They are aggressed because they're fat, but that's different, no?

I keep thinking about a poem written by a Black South African write, professor, thinker whose work I really admire in that she never allowed being an academic to stunt her consciousness or force her to step back from speaking truth.

She wrote a poem called Beauty Parade or Slave Trade, I think the title was which linked Black wimmin being paraded on the slave block, having their attributes graded, their worth decided on by others to beauty pageants.

This isn't a quote, I think I loaned the book that contained the poem to someone, but in effect she was saying something along the lines of:

Step up, step up and examine her. Is she beautiful? You decide, never her. She stands there vulnerable, a commodity that you can decide to buy...into. Just let her know what she's worth.

I just think that in a capitalist world, everything must be graded and validated externally.

I think that attention has to be drawn to the violence incurred by these wimmin.

And I think that questioning the nature of beauty so as to challenge our ableist ideas is useful.

But, I'm not sure this works well on either of these levels as the history/herstory of beauty pageants has alway been about the measuring of wimmin's intrinsic worth by those who dominate with their gaze.

Sorry I've been away for so long. I wrote a while back trying to bookmark some posts on your blog. Then I got sick. Hope you'll come by and comment again soon.