Tuesday, November 4, 2014


I had to look again. Last week Leah Kalanguka beat off 19 other contests to emerge this year’s Miss Uganda.

From the pictures I saw a tall lady, a dark lady, a winning smile. In my book she is not a spectacular beauty, beautiful yes, but she will not launch ships.

But no sooner had the picture made its way onto social media than the chattering masses went to work. If tweets were knives poor Leah would be dead and buried many times over.

The criticism was all over the place but you know what they say about criticism, criticism often says more about the critic than the object of their criticism.

Going by our criticism of our new Miss Uganda its clear to me that we have been fed a standard of beauty that is not our making and that does not reflect our reality.

To begin with beauty contests are a male construct, made solely for the enjoyment of men. Success or victory is based on the most transient of qualities, physical beauty, which fades with age despite the best efforts of the cosmetic industry, another male construct. The beauty of this (forgive the pun) is we can then have new contestants year after year.

At the much denigrated Mchaka Mchaka schools, instructors insisted that women cut their hair short. There were practical reasons for this – there is no fun crawling in the mud with your braids 
impending progress, there were hygiene issues—who knows what mites had made a home in the beds fashioned of mud that could lodge in the hair and I wouldn’t put it past the instructors’ sadistic streaks to see the ladies squirm as their locks were hacked off.

Beyond that however I learnt the origins or rationale behind cosmetics. Lipstick was created to enhance the lips, high heels to accentuate the derrière of the wearer and rouge to give the impression of good health by adding colour to the cheeks of paler faces.

On average our ladies do not need fuller lips, bigger behinds or darker faces, but then again I could be wrong.

In looking over the criticism of our Miss Uganda it was clear that we, both male and female, have an increasingly western standard of what constitutes beauty. And you cannot blame us.

Every year billions of dollars are spent on promoting an image of women who are tall, slender and are of lighter complexion. Every year we are assaulted by a barrage of images aimed at triggering primordial instincts in us, selling these images as the standard of beauty that women have to match up to and men have to hanker after. It’s been wildly successful. It’s estimated that the beauty economy will rope more than $200b or twice the size of the East African economy by 2017.

And really no one is innocent. Even the most sensible of us are not averse to laying on the lipstick with a ladle or risking whiplash at the lady walking past whose already big behind has been given more prominence by her heels.

"It is not a crime to be held captive by some clever marketing.  It might make you look a bit gullible and even foolish, but it’s not a crime...

So should we ban beauty contests as a cultural corruption, part of a ploy to enslave our women by the multi-billion dollar cosmetic industry? A devious plan to fire up our men’s baser instincts, trick them into thinking with the wrong head?

I imagine the male lobby that promotes these shows, getting off on their annual doze of leering at nubile young things would not let such an idea see the light of day.

I guess to everyone his own.

There is an entertainment value to these meat markets, a chance to fill more seats, sell more beer and generally cause some excitement. They shouldn’t be dismissed on moral grounds, in fact I think our men should be exposed to half dressed women more often so that they can be desensitised to the whole raft of emotions that erupt ( forgive the pun) whenever a woman showing a hint of flesh passes by.

To be fair to Kalanguka’s critics, in the Miss World beauty pageant she will be judged on a western generated standard and even her degree in computer engineering will count for nothing. Her genetic makeup alone disqualifies her from a podium finish.

But then again that just might be my brainwashed mind speaking, who knows!