by Nhes Dela Cruz
Speculations of a(nother) potential result manipulation in the upcoming Miss World are surfacing online just few days after the competition has officially kicked off. This ‘political’ claim is strongly linked to the so-called ‘hometown decision’ following Zhang Zilin’s and Yu Wenxia’s victory in 2007 and 2012. For the seventh time (2003-05, 2007, 2010, 2012) in the competition’s history, China is to host the biggest international beauty event in the planet and this is where the political controversy begins. Will it be China’s third crown in their hometown?
While many pageant observers are bringing some political character to a beauty event for charity purposes, let’s not take the attention away from the aesthetic and intellectual aspects of any beauty pageants. As a pageant follower may put it: Beauty pageants are not all about ‘beauty’ but also ‘brains’!
When we talk about the Question and Answer rounds in various pageants, Miss World’s is rather less exciting as it involves prepared speech (similar to Miss International). TV and online viewers across the globe may not have an opportunity to witness the candidates thinking on their feet. In the last editions, the finalists had to deliver a response to a single standard question: Why do you think you should be the next Miss World? This is in stark contrast to simultaneous speech in Miss Universe and Miss Earth competitions where different questions are to be addressed on the spot. Yet, does it mean we have brainless winners in Miss World? Of course not!
In Miss World 2013 and 2014, we witnessed the crowning of two highly-accomplished women from two continents. Megan Young (2013) is a national celebrity in the Philippines while Rolene Strauss is a medical student in one of the leading institutions of South Africa. Apart from their physical beauty, no one can deny their linguistic prowess. Their ability to both express and impress underline the need of Miss World organisation of a spokesperson (instead of just a doll-looking-titleholder). Perhaps Megan has already proved her stellar communication skills as she co-hosted Miss World a year ago, let alone her stints in Philippine TV. But how about the reigning queen, Rolene Strauss? Is she at least as eloquent as Megan? My encounter with her the night prior to her coronation in London last year would clearly suggest a big ‘yes’.
The girls had just finished their dress rehearsal in ExCel London as my partner and I bumped into the girls heading to the dressing room. Miss South Africa suddenly appeared in the crowd of many gorgeous girls. Her beauty was (and is still) a standout. I said ‘good luck’ to her and she immediately approached us, shook hands and had a brief chat. We weren’t expecting that at all. Then my partner asked her, if it was fine to take pictures inside the premises. Her answer surprised me a lot….in a positive way. She said: ‘I am not sure. But I’d rather not’. As a student of linguistics, I learned some theories in degrees of politeness and other pragmatical strategies. Her response to a very simple BUT unexpected question (in beauty pageants) tells a lot about this lady. Of course, she could have answered the question with: ‘No, it is forbidden’ or ‘You should not’. But the way she formulated her response was rather diplomatic and not offending. Another is the way she delivered her response. She looked deep into our eyes and sounded unrehearsed. If I had been a judge, I would had given her the crown for her sincerity, diplomatic ability and of course, beauty. And the day after, Rolene Strauss was hailed as Miss World 2014.
Unless political influence will prevail in this year’s edition of Miss World, we should and want to expect a winner who can converse in at least one of the major languages of the world, that is, spoken in more than one country. And when I say ‘converse’, it doesn’t have to be of native-speaker’s level. It should be someone who’s in a position to articulate her and Miss World’s ideologies. A person who can, in return, understand the concern(s) of those in need without constant dependence on translation services. After all, Miss World has been shifting its focus to charity works as reflected in its Beauty with Purpose competition. Works involving charity, let alone MISS WORLD CHARITY (yes, in caps) encompasses international territories and the importance of one’s linguistic ability can indeed make a difference in addressing various global (rather than local) issues. Pageants such as Miss World are not always political and shouldn’t be anyway. But it is and will always be, to some extent…linguistic.