February 2014

Beautiful Ladies’ Contests

People everywhere have always glorified beauty. Nevertheless, different cultures have different views on what is aesthetically beautiful and what inner characteristics are admirable. Although the popular adage states: “to each his own”, there is the criterion that has been standardized in each era and society of what is considered beautiful or not.

By: Walter Sánchez C.
Instituto de Investigaciones

Queen of the contest
Photo: Instituto de investigaciones AntropolĂłgicas UMSS

It is a well known fact that beauty is commonly associated with the body, though the conceptions of corporal beauty are contextual and historically concrete. For example, at the beginning of the 21st century in Cochabamba, beauty was different to what it was perceived at the beginning of the 20th century. It should remain clear that those perceptions did not appear out of thin air but rather from the same conceptions (moral, religious, sanitary, etc.) that a society has of the body.

Currently, there is a consensus among many societies that divides the beauty of people —and, especially, of women—, between interior and exterior beauty. Thus, the interior beauty is associated with virtue or virtuosity. A woman with interior beauty is the one who has kindness, morality, tenderness, devoutness, and selflessness. On the other hand, the exterior beauty is appreciated from certain anatomical attributes: the skin colour, corporal measures, forms, etc. If the interior beauty is associated to the private and intimate things and can only be appreciated in direct contact with the person, the exterior beauty is supported by the public opinion.

A woman can be beautiful inside and outside yet be perceived as a fool. Therefore, intelligence and beauty do not necessarily go together. Still, there is a common belief that women with external beauty are fools and the ones who lack of it – those considered “ugly” - are intelligent. That is the law of compensation. However, the parameters of what is understood as beautiful in women can be tracked in time. The 20th century gave hope of the birth of a new social standardized model to designate female beauty. In this new context, the beauty contest is a new mechanism that aspires to define which qualities are considered beautiful as well as what is widely held as external beauty.

To all the distinguished young ladies of our social circles: we call you to a state contest of female beauty. To take part in the contest we only require the shipment of a photo with your name and surname in a closed envelope to the address of this magazine.

In the city of Cochabamba, female beauty contests were initiated in the first decades of the 20th century. Although it is not exactly known when the first beauty contest was held, a monthly magazine, Vanguard, advertised in its NÂş 2, Year 1, 1929, an article for a contest in which some nominal requirements were detailed:

The bases of this contest show – albeit ambiguously -- the selective criteria of what should be considered as female beauty. It should be noted that the advertisement delineates important elements that are the rules of the contest: (1) A jury — “three people of high social status” — that will define what is a beautiful and (2) a photo of the candidate – that will probably include only her face. (3) Finally, a “Contest,” and the prizes will be delivered to the beautiful women who win: a tangible good (a jewel, a work of art, a dress) and the publication of the photographs of the “fortunate,” which suggests a social and public recognition of female beauty.

Beauty in the 20’s
Photo: Instituto de investigaciones AntropolĂłgicas UMSS

Though this type of reading could be interpreted as part of the use and abuse of the patriarchal society and sexist elements by including considering women to be “objects,” this type of reading obscures the women’s political agenda.

These women change societies view on what is beautiful in the broader world.

The articles of clothing, hairstyles, etc., the women show in these contests became more popular in the eyes of everyone watching. Thus, these women changed societies’ views on what is beautiful around the world.


Instituto de Investigaciones AntropolĂłgicas

Translated by Simone Batelaan and Soren Clarkwest

Calendario FEBRERO 2014

> Ciclo de cine
3 de febrero – 19:00
2013: Nominado al CĂ©sar de la mejor pelĂ­cula.

10 de febrero – 19:00
“Su ausencia me enfurece”
2012: Premio del mejor actor en el Festival Internacional de los jĂłvenes directores.

17 de febrero – 19:00
“La chica del 14 de julio”
2013: fue seleccionada para concursar en Las Nuevas Olas del SEFF tras deslumbrar en la Quincena de Realizadores del Festival de Cannes.

24 de febrero – 19:00
“La virgen, los coptos y yo”
2009: Premio Jean Vigo
Ingreso: libre

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