Two models from Southern Africa made it into the top 15 of the Miss
World finals in London, UK two weeks ago, while another won two
accolades at Miss International Beauty in China. Of the 133 participants at Miss World, 18 were African though the top prize went to Venezuela's Ivian Sarcos.
South Africa's Bokang Montjane was Africa's pick of the night, making it into the top seven, while Zimbabwe's Malaika Mashandu was in the top 15. On the other side of the world in China, another Zimbabwean – Lisa Morgan – was being crowned Miss Ambassador of Beauty 2011 and Miss Expressive in a pageant that had more than 50 contestants.
At Miss World, a message from former South African president and anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, delivered by his grandson Mandla, added to the Southern African flavour of the pageant. Madiba, as the statesman is known, wished the models luck. But there was not going to be any 'Madiba magic' for 25-year-old Bokang who could not make it past the round of seven as she came up against beauties from Korea, Venezuela, England, Philippines, Puerto Rico and Scotland. Malaika came close to clinching the Miss Beach Body and Miss Beauty with a Purpose awards, while Bokang also narrowly missed out on the latter accolade. It was not all gloom for Africa as Ghana's Stephani Karikari was co-winner of Miss Beauty with a Purpose with Miss Indonesia. She was awarded for her work on maternal care. Other African queens at this pageant were Edmilza Santos (Angola), Tirza Allen (Cape Verde), Nomazondo Mphasikome (Lesotho), Joelle Nagupen (Mauritius), Salha Kafai (Tanzania), among others.
Last year, Botwana's Emma Wareus was crowned first princess at Miss World. Sadly, Africa has not had much by way of success at pageants like Miss World. In the 60 years of Miss World, only one black African Agbani Darego of Nigeria, has won: and that was back in 2001. This has had people asking if 'true' African beauty is appreciated, or if there should be a parallel 'African beauty' show.
It has been observed by some critics that winners are chosen on the basis of 'Eurocentric' conceptions of beauty/aesthetics. The matter has even become a case of anthropological and academic interest. Blogger Orikinla Osinachi explores the question in a post entitled 'What is African beauty?' Osinachi quotes beauty guru Leigh Tosselli saying South Africans, for example, are waking up to 'African beauty'. 'We're
starting to see a strong sense of ethnic identity – even South African
models are starting to realize that they don't have to have hair
extensions and blue contact lenses to be beautiful,' Toselli says. Osinachi
adds: 'Now, more than ever, what it means to be African and beautiful
no longer depends on how well African women mimic Western aesthetic
ideals. Popular Afro-centric hairstyles and fashion speak for themselves. 'We've
become so comfortable with our natural attributes that our white
sisters envy us for our beautiful, glowing, clear, wrinkle-free skins,
our sparkling white teeth, our strong facial features and our inherently
dignified postures.' Osinachi quotes 2005 Face of Africa judge
and True Love magazine editor Busi Mahlaba as celebrating the ideal of
'African beauty'. Says Mahlaba: 'There's no beauty like African
beauty - our skin tones, our figures and our shapes are distinct and
unique in all of the world!'
Mahlaba believes African beauty 'is about the pride and dignity with which Africans wear African identity on a daily basis by celebrating our shape, enhancing those features unique to us (such as our small waists and wider hips). 'African beauty is reflecting who you are outwardly; it's embracing our cultures and traditions, and honouring them.' Miss World has its other critics – and their beef is with the entire concept of beauty pageantry.
Demonstrators stood outside the pageant venue holding placards like 'objectification won't achieve world peace'.
Sabrina Qureshi, the founder of Million Women Rise, said that far from harmless fun, beauty pageants were a sign of 'a society that trivializes women in a way that leads to violence' against women. 'To stop such heinous crimes against women and girls, we need to stop trivializing what may appear to be harmless practices and start joining up the dots of women's treatment, representation and discrimination.' however, Laura Coleman - a former Miss England - asked protesters not to attend the event, arguing that pageants 'empower' women.
'Appreciating beauty should not cause anger. Women enter beauty pageants at their own will, they are not forced into it. I don't understand why feminists think it is degrading, as pageants are actually empowering women.
'Ask any of the contestants. Pageants give the girls confidence and give them opportunities they may not otherwise have had and I can speak from experience.'
Courtesy: Southern African Times