A Mexican University’s Beauty Queens Vie for Scholarships as Pageants Face Criticism

As beauty queens from various departments at a university in Mexico prepare for a university-wide competition set for Nov. 4, an activist group is staging protests and publicly calling for an end to the pageant. Members of Colectivo Quimera say they oppose the pageants because they demean women. But women involved in the pageants say the contests help them perfect skills that are important for success in Mexico.

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A Mexican University’s Beauty Queens Vie for Scholarships as Pageants Face Criticism

Itzel Hervert, GPJ Mexico

Fátima Rodríguez, 21, was a participant at a beauty pageant for the School of Philosophy and Literature at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León.

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SAN NICOLÁS DE LOS GARZA, MEXICO – Francia Lizbeth Alanís Irigoyen is preparing for a beauty pageant, but her primary concern isn’t how she’ll look in her chosen outfits. Instead, she worries about how she’ll do when she presents her idea for dealing with pollution.

After the cocktail dress and formal gown competitions, Alanís Irigoyen, 18, will showcase research on how to clean oil pollution from lakes and rivers by placing hair, which naturally absorbs oil, into biodegradable bags and into the water. She plans to highlight the research as part of her social project idea, something each contestant must present.

“My challenge is that I don’t want to disappoint my department,” she says. “I don’t want it to be thought that I am here just for being pretty.”

Alanís Irigoyen is a philosophy major at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León (UANL), a public university in the northern Mexican state of the same name. When the School of Philosophy and Literature held a school-wide beauty pageant on Sept. 23, Alanís Irigoyen won the top prize and took home $180. Now, she’s preparing to represent that department at the university-wide contest, where “Señorita UANL 2015,” which translates to “Miss UANL 2015,” will be crowned.

Señorita UANL 2015 will receive a scholarship for a full year’s tuition, as well as gifts from the brands sponsoring the event, and opportunities to represent the university at local events.

Alanís Irigoyen says she’s always wanted to compete in beauty pageants, but didn’t have support from her family to do it. She says she participated in her university department’s pageant to get attention for her social project idea. In Mexico, she says, being physically attractive and presentable opens more doors.

“Mexican society is not prepared to hear a person who is not pretty,” she says.

Mexican society is not prepared to hear a person who is not pretty.

But as the Nov. 4 university-wide pageant nears, a student group dedicated to fighting gender violence within the university is pushing to shut the pageant down.

Global Press Journal requested comments from school officials including Ludivina Cantú Ortiz, the head of the School of Philosophy and Literature, but no one responded to those requests.

The university has similar pageants for men, but it’s the pageants for women that have drawn fire.

Colectivo Quimera, the group opposing the pageants, has staged protests and circulated a petition calling for the end to the pageants. The group, whose name refers to a Mexican slang term referring to gender neutrality, posted on its Facebook page a manifesto, as well as a call to end the university’s beauty pageants.

Colectivo Quimera’s online actions triggered cyber-bullying on its Facebook page, says Lucía De Luna Guajardo, a 24-year-old philosophy major who is one of the group’s members.

“We got many comments of attack, aggression and delegitimization,” she says of the group’s Facebook posts. “A lot of misogyny and even death threats. But also a lot of support.”

The group opposes what De Luna Guajardo describes as an accepted narrative in Mexico: That beauty is paramount. Reducing a woman to nothing but her sexuality is an act of violence, she says.

“Being a woman in Mexico is being a recipient of violence,” she says.

Photos by Itzel Hervert, GPJ Mexico

Lucía De Luna Guajardo, 24, a philosophy major at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León, is a member of Colectivo Quimera, which opposes the university’s beauty pageants on the grounds that they objectify women.

The School of Philosophy and Literature at the Autonomous University of Nuevo León has been at the center of the beauty pageant controversy.

Julia Góngora Galván, 20, a philosophy major, is the former winner of “Señorita Filosofía y Letras,” which translates to “Miss Philosophy and Literature,” the beauty pageant at the School of Philosophy and Literature. Now, she coaches pageant contestants.

Francia Lizbeth Alanís Irigoyen, 18, is this year’s winner of “Señorita Filosofía y Letras,” which translates to “Miss Philosophy and Literature.” She says she entered the pageant to draw attention to her project idea about how to eliminate oil pollution in water.

Pageant participants say the cyber-bullying goes both ways.

Julia Góngora Galván, 20, is the 2014 winner of the philosophy school’s beauty contest. She is a coach for this year’s participants. She says she has also been on the receiving end of cyberbullying. People insulted her, she says, because she is involved in the pageant.

That’s why Góngora Galván says her work as a coach is necessary. Pageant contestants need to feel confident, she says. Modeling and other pageant requirements can help women learn to present themselves and communicate well, which are skills that will help them personally and professionally, she says.

“Being a woman in Mexico is an honor,” Góngora Galván says.

The beauty pageant represents the kinds of roles that Mexican society expects women to fulfill, says Cintia Smith, a professor of political science and international relations at the Technological Institute of Higher Education Studies of Monterrey. Monterrey is the capital of Nuevo León.

Smith says she believes pageants should not be part of any university’s policy because it promotes limitations on women.

“The beauty pageant is not an icon in itself,” she says. “It is the space that is destined for the woman. It is a manifestation where women are expected to unfold and show certain attributes. They are defined roles.”

Fátima Rodríguez, 21, a contestant in this year’s philosophy department’s beauty pageant, says she is organizing a presentation at the university to talk about the pageants. She believes women should be empowered to pursue their goals and be supported to participate in beauty contests if they feel like it.

“We have the right to be the best in what we do,” she says. “I want to break the stereotypes of beauty.”

She says she has seen cyberbullying on Colectivo Quimera’s Facebook page, and she plans to invite them to participate in her discussion.

Colectivo Quimera will continue to work to end violence against women even after the university-wide pageant is over, De Luna Guajardo says.

“Our long-term goal is to create an awareness campaign of gender violence,” she says. “We don’t want to centralize the gender fight.”

Alanís Irigoyen says her participation in the pageant doesn’t indicate that she believes women should be judged by their looks. She doesn’t think it should be this way, she says, but Mexican standards demand beauty.

“Being a woman in Mexico is a great responsibility,” she says.

Natalia Aldana, GPJ, translated interviews from Spanish.