Wednesday 28 September 2016

'Lovely Girls' contests deservedly struggle to find entrants

Lorraine Courtney

Published 04/05/2015 | 02:30

Maria Walsh, who won the Rose of Tralee competition last year
Maria Walsh, who won the Rose of Tralee competition last year

Rose of Tralee organiser Brendan Galvin is begging mothers and grandmothers to be "cruel to be kind" and to "almost bully their daughters" into entering the competition this year.

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Television producers realise the telly potential of pageantry and have created the pageant genre, which now includes programmes like 'Here Comes Honey Boo Boo', 'Toddlers and Tiaras' and 'Little Miss Perfect'.

Almost a million of us tune in to watch the 'Rose of Tralee' here every year. Apparently, there is little as entertaining as a girl impersonating a drag queen impersonating a girl and all the while presenting this as one big competition.

We gaze across at America and shake our heads at those vulgar moms, desperate for vicarious kicks, dressing up their daughters to look like hookers as a hobby and trying to outdo each other.

We sigh about the fact that girls are being judged so openly and so superficially. The itty bitty costumes, heavy make-up and fake tans seem typically and foolishly American and not something sensible people like us would have anything at all to do with. Yet all the while we have a similar circus every summer in Tralee.

Our version has some fairly lofty mission statements though, such as "this is a celebration of the aspirations, ambitions, intellect, social responsibility and Irish heritage of modern young women". Still the competition follows a traditional format, with most of the usual trimmings - crowns, sashes, tears and questions about world peace that you'd expect from an average beauty pageant.

But organisers are always trying to proclaim there is a massive difference.

You see, according to the official website, judges "consider many different attributes including, in the words of William Mulchinock's song 'The Rose of Tralee', an indefinable quality that captures 'the truth in her eyes'." But only if the girl is under 27 and unmarried.

The Rose of Tralee isn't a beauty pageant. At the end of the day, it's all about personality.

So if it's anything, it's a personality contest. But of course, it isn't exactly a personality contest either.

As the Roses are paraded and interviewed on stage, it is clear that each girl has the same personality. She has breasts but never shows them. She's intelligent but not too smart. She's groomed but never stunningly attractive.

She has a maths degree but blushes and giggles as she tells Daithi how her parents first met each other.

She lives with her boyfriend but must be escorted around Tralee by a male stranger.

She's nice, bland and utterly inoffensive.

The search for the elusive 'truth in her eyes' takes the girls round Ireland for a week during which they are observed by the judges, who also interview them individually and in groups.

They go to the ball, pose for photo calls, have bets taken on them at the bookies and attend supermarket openings. Doing the 'party piece' for the judges on selection night isn't compulsory but it is still kind of expected of them for the cameras.

But pitting young women from Cork to California against each other, making them perform 'party pieces' that would be embarrassing at the age of nine, never mind when you have several degrees and a career, and parading about in garish ball gowns before selection committees is not only deeply dated, it's highly distasteful.

The contest - so brilliantly parodied by Father Ted's commentary, "Doesn't Mary have a lovely bottom . . . of course, they all have lovely bottoms" - can't expect us Irish women clambering to enter and be sized up for our "loveliness".

Irish Independent

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