Photo of the Day: Caged Pageantry

Brazil's prison beauties compete for the Miss Penitentiary crown.
Finally, a prison program that inmates are eager to sink their nails into. (Photo: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters)
Aug 4, 2011
Allan MacDonell is TakePart’s News + Opinion editor, with a focus on social justice.

The discussion around U.S. prison reform is complex and contentious, and rarely—if ever—includes suggestions that beauty contests will contribute to the reformatory process. But jail officials at the Women's Prison of Brasilia feel they've come up with a program—the Miss Penitentiary Pageant—that gives female prisoners goals, pride in place and steps toward self-esteem. Inmate participation is high: A modeling agency selected 12 finalists out of nearly 100 Brasilia women who sought the sash and crown.

Although the notion of judging women on their physical attributes has long been widely eschewed as a degrading exercise in objectification, the third annual Miss Brasilia Penetentiary pageant's contestants—and their incarcerated supporters—might argue, "Spend a month or two in my cell before you dare to judge me, unless you are a judge in the pageant, in which case judge away."

"Miss Jail" competitions have spread from South America to Russia and Lithuania. The competition seems to be riotously popular in this video from a Colombia lockup (spoiler alert: the crown goes to Angie the Arms Dealer).

So tell us your verdict: Are Miss Jail beauty contests a further dehumanization or a window of release? And are contests that pit caged women against one another better or worse than prison rodeos that "exploit" male convicts?

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