Beauty pageants have been with us since pre-Christian Europe, when Roman and Germanic traditions independently decided that an attractive young woman be chosen to represent in comprehensible form the burgeoning spring - what became known as the May Queen, part of many a town and village ceremony, even as socialists coveted May-Day and then, as the contestants in Miss London School of Economics found, proclaimed the ceremonies like those of the day's original tenants an "objectification of women".
While the pagan overseers of May-Day may have had a better grasp of the procreative aspect of sex than the unitive one, the author of Song of Songs displays no such impediment as we see carnal and romantic combine to turn the marriage-bed into a gateway to the numinous:
While the king was at his table,What's notable about Songs is that the Beloved is no beauty-queen; taking the work as an erotic poem (one of several interpretations), she initially tries to turn the Lover's eyes away from her because she has been put to work in the fields - "Do not stare at me because I am...darkened by the sun."
my perfume spread its fragrance.
My lover is to me a sachet of myrrh
resting between my breasts.
My lover is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
from the vineyards of En Gedi.
How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes are doves.
How handsome you are, my lover!
Oh, how charming!
And our bed is verdant.
The beams of our house are cedars;
our rafters are firs.
Andrew Jones, leader of Grace Church in London's Hackney, teases out in polemic form the tocsin rung by Songs identifying the difficult path Geneviève de Fontenay must tread if she is to keep Miss France (or any beauty pageant) above the level of a flesh-feast: "We are to read it as a celebration of and a warning about the power of sexual love."
Mme de Fontenay enforces strict rules regarding the conduct of Miss France contestants before, during and after the contest: entrants must be single, nulliparous, not have posed for nude or scantily-clad pictures; and a successful Miss France must not pose for such pictures for five years after gaining the title.
In an article about the crisis surrounding the present incumbent, First News' Gavin Mortimer revisits a controversy 2008 incumbent Valérie Bègue of Réunion, he says, "was ordered to stand down by de Fontenay on account of a series of titillating photos, one of which involved licking yogurt off a ledge. Bègue refused, saying that she was fully clothed in the photos and hadn't authorised their publication. De Fontenay was forced to back off when she was accused in some quarters of racism."
Mortimer, a class-war conspiracy theorist, is showing an aversion to traditional values in his selectivity with the facts: despite its cherished laïcité, there is a strong core of Judaeo-Christian values in France. The photo that endangered Bègue's crown did so not because she was in a swimming-pool wearing a skimpy bikini: the clinching factor was that she was in a "crucified" position, floating on a wooden cross. I refrain from posting the pic due to its blasphemy rather than any salaciousness.
The present unhappiness to dog Miss France by association is the publication of nude photos of Miss Paris 2010, Kelly Bochenko, in scandal-sheet Entrevue. The 23-year-old stated that they had been taken either by or for a former boyfriend four years ago and she'd forgotten about them.
Actually, I don't have too much of a problem swallowing the last statement. In a toxic practice called sexting, young people - predominantly females - send lewd and sometimes downright pornographic photographs of themselves to males or even to their peers by mobile phone, something that is planting a harvest of tears for the future as these photos find their way onto the internet where they await the subjects' parents or even children should the models be hubristic enough to achieve anything. Yet explicit "lads' mags" whose publishers resist every effort to relegate them to the top shelf continue to brainwash young men into moulding young women into sex-objects, as all the while feminists fix their fury on beauty contests which, while staunch guardians like Geneviève de Fontenay stand watch, are much more about a celebration of grace and elegance than that much-used misnomer into which all the varied subtleties of sexuality are crushed, "just sex".
While in Songs Lover and Beloved embrace and encircle in a double-helix dance, sex without commitment splinters us into so many shards we end up out of control and easy meat for predators who feed on the vulnerable.
Perhaps Bochenko's boyfriend was jealous of her incipient success? The wonderful passage of Songs about love being as strong as death has a scorpions' sting in the tail that Andrew Jones indicates with his point "sexual love is so powerful that it needs to be sealed": "its jealousy [is] unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame." I just wonder whether her forgetting about the skin-pix represents a genuine lapse of memory or a need for a psychological fig-leaf.
The First Post's Gavin Mortimer has a depressing prediction for Bochenko and too many women who have been softened up by the abusive phenomena of sexting and lads' mags, with an insight into their raison d'être: "the photos will do her no harm should she wish to go into the porn business". That's nothing to sing about. I hope Kelly Bochenko can put this behind her, whatever the gutter press's ambitions for her, and reaches for the heights she is capable of.