More often than not, you throw the word pageant in and the above descriptions would be the immediate picture one conjures. Beauty pageants, whether good or bad, have always perpetrated the stereotype of what-one-should-look-like. Add the glare of media onto it and one has an instant staircase to stardom and publicity. No wonder then, every year, thousands of aspiring young girls try their luck in numerous auditions, state heats and national pageants – only for one shining star in the sky in their eyes – that precious crown.
Nonetheless, it is rather pitying that girls groom themselves according to the stereotypes accorded to beauty pageants. Take the age scale down and one finds an extreme case in shows like ‘Toddlers and Tiaras’, where innocent and supple babes are caked with paint, donned with hair extensions, fake eyelashes, false teeth and prom dresses, only to make them look like mini adults. Also in countries like Venezuela, girls are enrolled in beauty courses in schools.
It is rather ironic that at the end of the beauty contest, ‘individuality’ is the key factor determining the ultimate winner and behind the curtains what this very industry idealizes is urging girls ‘to fit into a type.’ No matter how long this paradox sustains, there have been girls who have rebelled against these standards. And how.
They come as a breath of fresh air. However, not all click but those who do are hard to erase from our memory.
GEORGINA RIZK, MISS UNIVERSE 1971
Amidst a bevy of embellished dresses, Georgina’s finale gown made her an instantaneous stand-out: an ornamented swimsuit piece overlaid with harem pants and shoulders. For a woman of her times, this Lebanese was modern and bold.
YVONNE RYDING, MISS UNIVERSE 1984
This Swedish looked like a Christmas tree angel with her loose white lace gown with a unique cape. It was unique and very Nordic.
OXANA FEDOROVA, MISS UNIVERSE 2002
Another loose-fitting gown minus all the shimmer and jewels. She looked like a seductress wrapped in a bedsheet yet exceptionally divine.
DZEJLA GLAVOVIC, MISS EARTH 2002
Yes, that Bosnian lady in the Ao-Dai hat. Magnifique.
AZRA AKIN, MISS WORLD 2002
This Turk chucked the five-inch strapper heels for matching boots. She claimed the award for dress designer.
MIYAKO MIYAZAKI, MISS UNIVERSE 2003
What Georgina Rizk did in 1971, Miyako did it in 2003. When she let go of her shoulder drape to reveal a bra-bodice and a detached skirt, this Japanese was an instant head-turner.
NANCY SOTO, MISS UNIVERSE 2004
Yes, she does have a gown on and she pulled off the nude colour with sophistication
ZULEYKA RIVERA, MISS UNIVERSE 2006
That metal-chain gown redefined sexy plus elegance and immediately sealed the deal for this Boricuan
TALIANA VARGAS, MISS UNIVERSE 2008
Another bedsheet gown? This gown was worn by the host of Miss Colombia 2007 (which Taliana won) and was forgettable. Give it to Taliana and her evening gown segment was sheer magic in movement. And that twirl.
THE PAGEANT HAIR
MARISSA WHITLEY, MISS TEEN USA 2001 and SHAUNTAY HINTON, MISS USA 2002
Well, Miss USA atleast had winners with the bob-cut hair-styles but for the modern pageant girl, it was considered passé. Enter Marissa and Shauntay and they are remembered for their unique chic looks.
FLAVIANA MATATA, MISS UNIVERSE 2007
This Tanzanian proved to the world that one doesn’t need hair to look drop-dead stunning.
JENNIFER SAA, MISS VENEZUELA 2014 – NIVILIAS PEREZ, MISS UNIVERSE PUERTO RICO 2014 and ROSA NILDA ADAMES, MISS MUNDO DOMINICANA 2014
These girls made a style statement in lands which are infatuated with beauty pageants and dolled-up girls. Jennifer Saa was the darling of the pageant with a top ten finish, while Nivialis Perez was the second best with her modern Euroepan Pink-esque look. Rosa Nilda Adames cut her hair days before the pageant to stand out and was a killer that night, being awarded the delegation for Miss Supranational. However, only minutes later, she declined the title.
GINA SWAINSON, MISS UNIVERSE 1979 and MISS WORLD 1979 – MPULE KWELAGOBE, MISS UNIVERSE 1999 and KAIANE ALDORINO, MISS WORLD 2009
Sash factor didn’t prevent these girls from claiming top accolades. Bermuda’s Gina Swainson’s feat of being a top two at the big two pageants is unparalleled by anyone. More so, this island is relatively unheard of in most pageants. Botswana’s Mpule Kwelagobe was her country’s first delegate ever. She came, saw and conquered, becoming the first black African Miss Universe ever. Whereas Kaiane represented a country at Miss World that was not even considered a threat. This Gibraltarian toppled stunners and divas to win it all.
THE SKIN TONE
JANELLE COMMISSIONG, MISS UNIVERSE 1977 – AGBANI DAREGO, MISS WORLD 2001 and JEYMMY VARGAS, MISS INTERNATIONAL 2004
Owing to the world’s history of racism, it was quite the stereotype for a beauty queen to be a white-skinned girl. This constituted a false construct that white is beautiful and hence a lot of women aspired to be fair, which led to the cosmetic boom. The crowning of the first black global beauty queens through women like Janelle Commissiong, Agbani Darego and Jeymmy Vargas was a departure from white-skinned belles wearing the prime crowns. It signified not only the end of racial prejudice but also that one’s skin colour is not a deciding factor of one’s beauty.
VANESSA MENDOZA, SENORITA COLOMBIA 2001 – RUTH OCUMAREZ, MISS REPUBLICA DOMINICANA 2002 and JICTZAD VINA, MISS VENEZUELA 2005
These black barbies all went unplaced at their respective Miss Universe pageants, but back home, they were the first black national beauty queens. It is a historic achievement in its own right as their countries are obsessed with the standard of a white-skinned beauty.
MALOU HANSSON, MISS UNIVERSE 2002 – SHAUNTAVIA LOO, MISS INTERCONTINENTAL 2005 and YITYISH AYNAW, MISS UNIVERSE 2013
When one mentions countries like Sweden, Norway and Israell, the picture conjured of its beauty queen is a fair damsel, probably blonde, with light eyes. These girls shattered these notions and were women of African heritage, signifying their country’s colonial past and migration.
JACQUI MOFOKENG, MISS WORLD 1993 – DENNY MENDEZ, MISS UNIVERSE 1997 and SONIA ROLLAND – MISS UNIVERSE 2000
These girls too shattered the preconceived notions of their country’s beauty queens. After the death of the apartheid regime, Jacqui Mofokeng’s win is an answer to end of racism in South Africa. Denny Mendez of Italy and Sonia Rolland of France showed the cultural diversity of their nations and were met with harsh public criticisms for being black, which they handled with grace and dignity. They sent out a strong message of clearing racial discrimination, that we ought:
RIMA FAKIH, MISS USA 2010 and NINA DAVULURI, MISS AMERICA 2014
Rima Fakih was the first Arab-American to win Miss USA while Nina Davuluri became the first Indian-American Miss America. Nina’s victory was met with racial slurs saying that she is not American enough, to which she gracefully responded that she is first and foremost American and proud to have Indian heritage. Their wins are the pointers to the rich cultural hotpot that the US and the modern world are becoming.
ALICIA MACHADO, MISS UNIVERSE 1997 and MEKAYLA DIEHL, MISS USA 2014
These girls defied adhering to the expected hourglass figures and purposely gained weight. Venezuela’s Alicia Machado risked losing her Miss Universe title due to this while Indiana’s Mekayla Diehl strutted her plus size figure during the recent Miss USA semifinals, gaining bouquets rather than brickbats for flaunting her natural figure.
THERESA VAIL, MISS AMERICA 2014 and JENNA TALACKOVA, MISS UNIVERSE CANADA 2012
Whilst on the other hand, Kansas’ Theresa Vail didn’t shy away from parading her tattooed body at the Miss America finale. However, Canadian Jenna Talackova turned all tables by being the first transgendered woman to make the semifinals for a mainstream beauty pageant for naturally born women. Her inclusion gave vent for the cry of equality for the LGBT community.
VANESSA PERETTI, MISS INTERNATIONAL 2007 – ABBEY CURAN, MISS USA 2008 and ALEXIS WINEMAN, MISS AMERICA 2013
Vanessa Peretti may be hearing impaired and communicated herself through sign language but that didn’t stop her from being a Miss Venezuela. Abbey Curan may have had Cerebral Palsy, a condition which causes impairment in motor coordination, but she sashayed down the Miss USA stage with confidence. Alexis Wineman suffers from Autism, which causes difficulty in interpersonal communication but that didn’t stop her from being ‘America’s Choice’ for the Miss America title.
KIRA KAZANTSEV, MISS AMERICA 2015
She is the most recent example of shattering the stereotype. She was expected to do a ballet dance or play the piano or sing a ballad during the Miss America talent round but she switched to beating kitchen cups and sing “Because I’m happy” by Pharel Williams, “if you feel like that’s what you wanna do.” And this pretty sums up the gist of this article: If you want to be happy and perfect, you have to be YOURSELF.