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The Politics of “Pretty” in Jamaica

As Laurie-Ann Chin is crowned this year's Miss Jamaica World – apparently despite the live audience's disapproval – Carolyn Joy Cooper, who blogs at Jamaica Woman Tongue, takes on the ugly underbelly of the country's beauty contests.

“If you follow these beauty contests, it’s easy to predict the outcome,” she says. “The light-skinned girl is almost always going to win.” This certainly seems to be the trend. Writer Marlon James blogged about “The Miss Jamaica Mulatto Factory” in 2008. More recently, author Kei Miller contended that the Miss Jamaica franchise represents “hierarchies of race and class as they still operate in Jamaica today”, saying:

The issue is that there is an idea in Jamaica of who is beautiful and who isn’t…that this idea of beauty is, to a large extent, a racially constructed one.

Cooper, who tracked the trend as far back as the 1960s, recalled a column she had written five years ago, dealing with the same issue, in which she “mischievously suggested that we forget about old-style beauty contests and promote a new model”:

So every year we ask ourselves this very loaded question: ‘Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of us all?’ And we all know the usual answer: ‘the fairest.’ But in an ‘out-of-many-one’ society it’s simply not fair that it’s only one type of beauty that is almost always privileged as the winner.

She also challenged the politics of beauty, saying, “It’s really all about power”:

Judges assume the right to decide who is ugly and who is beautiful. Who gives them that power? The contestants? The audience? The owners of the competition?

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