I had an interesting (and upsetting!) experience over the weekend, in terms of what it means to be a woman in New England, especially in regards to our expectations for our bodies. I went to the Phantom Gourmet’s Beerfest which included games, local food options, and of course, beer. While I expected the event to be aimed more at men than at women, I was not prepared for the “Miss Phantom Gourmet 2009” contest. Luckily, the friends around me (both male and female) also felt the experience was degrading to them personally, since without their agreement, I’m sure that the competition would have affected me in a more negative way.

Picture this: a row of about thirty women ages 21 to 30, mostly white, lined up in front of a few hundred people (majority being tipsy/drunk men) with two male hosts encouraging them to dance to music. Some of the women had beers or may have been drinking but none appeared even a little intoxicated. A few of the participants answered questions beyond their name and hometown such as where they most liked to eat around Boston, but many of the women wearing “normal” clothes were glossed over. Other women who received more attention from the host were dressed in a “costume” or were just taking off layers of their everyday clothes to make themselves more appealing. One woman was wearing about 12 square inches of fabric total on her entire body along with probably 5 inch heels. Another wore the most purple I have ever seen all at one time in honor of the Phantom Gourmet. Only one woman was probably over a size 12 in the entire competition. In order to win, the women had to get the audience to scream/clap/cheer for them. The top four finalists ranged from scantily clad to normally dressed, and the top three winners won $1,000, $500, and $250 for first, second, and third place respectively. All of this event was filmed by a man a little too happy with his job looking at these women.

Of course I am glad the finalists earned money for their efforts for this beauty pageant – or shall we say “Scholarship Competition” like in the movie Miss Congeniality – yet I could have lived a full life without experiencing that event. I respect the fact that the second place winner was wearing a normal Phantom Gourmet tank top and jeans and got the audience energized to get votes for herself, but the other two women wore less clothes and shook their butt to help them win. All around, the contest was basically judged only on the women’s bodies and the way they moved it in front of the crowd. There was no “Mr. Phantom Gourmet” competition. While I certainly do not wish the scrutiny put onto those women’s bodies onto men, I think it shows the unequal expectations of our society in a lot of ways.

I will also add that I do respect that confidence that some of the women in the competition displayed. The winners did have confidence, which is awesome! Good for them for being confident enough in themselves to win some money – and hopefully not regret the filming of them getting down and dirty by themselves. Ironically, the least covered woman was one of the least confident and probably didn’t win for that very reason. Perhaps what made me most upset about the experience is the lack of confidence that many of the women displayed while I sat there along with the audience judging them based solely on their appearance. It was disturbing to be put in a position with live people in front of me whom I was meant to judge in such a way, even though I’m sure I make these judgements every day about myself and others. Several times I just had to look away from the entire scene. It was difficult to not be jealous of the great bodies in front of us while at the same time being upset that it was the only thing valued in this event. Readers, I hope that you will encourage your friends and colleagues to only support opportunities for women to win contests where they may be judged on who they are, body AND mind. And that you will be comfortable enough to strut your stuff and share your perspective in order to win that contest!

-Kelli

What do you think about this type of event? Leave your comments!

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