‘Old fashioned and embarrassing’ – has the Miss France contest had its day?

'Old fashioned and embarrassing' - has the Miss France contest had its day?
All photos: AFP
It's one of the big TV events of the year in France and last year pulled in an audience of 7 million people - but increasingly the French are finding the Miss France contest embarrassing and out-dated. Jean-Baptiste Andrieux finds out why.

The new Miss France will be elected on Saturday in a primetime TV event that draws in millions of viewers, but the contest this year is facing trouble with calls for a boycott from one the country's biggest TV stars. 

“We have to stop objectifying women. We have to cease judging them on their physical appearance and systematically favouring the prettiest ones,” said TV presenter Laurent Ruquier in his flagship show On n’est pas Coucher. 

And it's a view shared by many French people, particularly the younger generation.

“Miss France does not give a positive image of women,” said Caroline, a Parisian student, “the swimsuit contest is probably the worst part of the contest.” 

“It is futile, pointless and utterly out of time,” said Pauline, another Parisian student. 

While British resident in France James agreed, saying: “I think it’s rubbish and outdated.” 

It is of course far from the first time that the French beauty pageant has faced criticism.

Feminist group “Osez le féminisme” denounced it in 2016 as a competition based on “a brutal rivalry between women”. 

French journalist and blogger, Raphaëlle Peltier, had also warned in an interview for Le Monde newspaper in 2014 that Miss France challenge could send the wrong message to young girls, who might believe that they have to be “pretty, thin, tall, etc. to be successful”. 

But former Miss France winners Vaimalama Chaves and Camille Cerf disagree with Ruquier's boycott call and claimed that participating to the national beauty pageant was an expression of the “freedom of will” and that it was possible to be both Miss France and feminist. 

To some, there is nothing sexist in Miss France.

“They are pretty, but we believe there are way more urgent issues,” said Jeannine and Pierre, a retired couple. 

Arthur, a Parisian resident, also pointed out that a men’s content does exist. However, “Mister France” challenge is not broadcast on television anymore, because it failed to attract a significant audience

And Ruquier has subsequently said on Twitter, that his call for a boycott was a “joke” and should not be taken seriously. 

The organisers of the contest have tried to prove their commitment to feminism over the few last years. The 2019 judging panel included only women and the captain of France women’s national football team, Amandine Henry, will be the jury chairman when Miss France 2020 is selected.

Despite the recent controversies, the annual contest remains popular in France. As a matter of fact, 7.3 million people watched the TV broadcast of the beauty pageant last year, not showing much of a dip from previous years.

The Miss France event was created in 1920 by journalist and writer Maurice de Waleffe and was at first known as “La plus belle femme de France” (The prettiest woman in France) before getting its current name in 1927.  

Miss France 2020 will be broadcast on Saturday, December 14th at 8pm.

Thirty contestants representing every French region and overseas territory will enter the competition in the hope of succeeding to Vaimalama Chaves, last year’s prizewinner. 

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