Posted by: Renee | September 17, 2008

Miss. Navajo: Reconceptualizing Native American Beauty


Yolanda Charley, recently won the title of Miss. Navajo NationI am normally against beauty contests, as I see them as nothing more than the performance of femininity for the male gaze.  The Miss Navajo Nation is like no other pageant I have ever come across.

The Miss Navajo competition is a week long with a 45-minute, 18-question interview by former Miss Navajos to test the contestants’ traditional knowledge. Navajo elders judge contestants’ dance moves, attire and personal presentation. Charley presented corn grinding and dedicated a song to Navajo veterans for the traditional skill and talent events.

In the competition, young Navajo women are judged on their language, traditional skills and talents and contemporary skills to become ambassadors for the tribe… Miss Navajo contestants aren’t helped by their parents or relatives during the pageants. They have to dress themselves and make their own hair bun, according to the application. They have to be fluent in Navajo and English and have a high school diploma.

What I love about this contest is that it is more than women parading around with fake smiles, with their bathing suits taped to their skin, to avoid being swallowed by their asses.  Miss Navajo is about celebration, and the perpetuation of  culture.

As I looked through the photos of past winners one of the things that struck me was the fact that the women were of all different sizes.  Unlike the Miss America pageant where women are all thin, long legged beauties, the requirement to win Miss. Navajo is a firm grounding in language, and ancient traditions. In this we can see that beauty can be understood very differently from what the media and the fashion industry continually try to idealize for the public.

Miss Navajo Nation represents womanhood and fulfills the role of “grandmother, mother, aunt, and sister” to the Navajo people and therefore she can speak as a leader, counselor, advisor and friend.

I see this pageant as more than a return to the past, it is an elevation of womanhood.  While a good part of the competition involves the preparation of food, what should be considered is that this is actually an elevation of women’s traditional nurturing labour.  Today when a woman prepares food for her family it is the expected and therefore an  invalidated act; whereas in the competition the labour is fully appreciated and rewarded.  The work that we do as women in the maintenance of our families upholds the private sphere, and this is often discounted because it does not produce a product that can be sold on the open market. When I see a pageant that celebrates womanhood in this way, I cannot help but to be thrilled.  Even though this competition is limited to Navajo women we should all take heed because what we should be celebrating are our skills and our devotion not whether we can  smile pretty, in a bathing suit and high heels.

H/T Ojibway Migisi Bineshii

Cross Posted from Womanist Musings


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