Saudi Arabia took the debate about beauty and the commoditisation of women to a whole new level this Friday.

Sample this surreal piece of breaking news from Riyadh: “Saudi beauty queen Aya Ali al-Mulla trounced 274 rivals to win a crown, jewellery, cash and a trip to Malaysia, and all without showing her face.

To win the title of Miss Moral Beauty, Miss Mulla had to go through three months of ‘tests’ to prove how much more dutiful than the other contestants she was towards her parents, and society.

While one of the organisers claims that “The real winner in this competition is the society”, what I found interesting was the fact that the only other pageants so far held in Saudi Arabia had as contestants “goats, sheep, camels and other animals, aimed at encouraging livestock breeding”. What a great list to be part of!

Well, after decades of struggle, Saudi women have finally been given their own pageant and now take their rightful place in that long and exalted list. Though I am very sure the aim – quite laudably – still continues to be socially sanctioned breeding.

Because that’s what women everywhere are for, isn’t it? That’s what moral beauty is all about – duty towards husband, parents and society. And fecundity. Let’s not forget the fecundity.

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