Womens’ correctional facilities are the ultimate sleep-over party with all the trappings: pajamas, bunk beds, in-fighting, sloppy joes, getting touched up under the covers, and being told when to go to bed. Some prisons even let the girls play dress-up. Miss America, meet Miss Demeanor:
To be fair, it’s primarily inmates who organize these shows. It’s an increasingly popular phenomenon, with womens’ prisons hosting beauty pageants in Russia, Brazil, Peru, Honduras, Angola and the Philippines, amongst others, with working titles like Miss Captivity. The idea is to ‘boost’ the self-esteem of (at least the better looking portion of) the prison population.
There is arguably an obvious exploitative angle in this, one which perpetuates gender and class divisions in a place where women are their most vulnerable. The media is only too happy to join in, throwing the spotlight on the tragedy of a pretty young woman in distress, putting herself on display. A beauty contest under these conditions probably does next to nothing for the self esteem or prospects of the contestants in any meaningful way.
It’s almost a perverse caricature of a parole board hearing in a Van Halen video, an effort to charm your way into garnering favour from you captors and respite from your situation by any measure necessary. Having said that, spending years trapped like an animal in a gray, clinical dorm framed in razor wire, any warm-blooded woman would thirst for anything beautiful in her world. Participation in these productions transiently refashions the contestant from a shoplifter or drug addict into a graceful, sophisticated and beautiful person of seeming worth, if only for one evening. Who could condemn the contestants for their humble aspirations and for enjoying an event which breaks up the tedium of Gilligan’s Island re-runs on prison TV?
Trailer for Miss Gulag, a 2006 Documentary:
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