Cape Town - Miss World 2012 is around the corner. The controversy has started already with Miss SA Melinda Bam choosing to forego the contest to compete in the Miss Universe pageant, but the real question, as beauty queens all over the world begin pampering themselves for the event, is whether there’s anyone out there who really gives a damn.
Since Miss World began in 1951, with 26 women flaunting their physical beauty for the world to see, the pageant has grown in popularity in leaps and bounds.
Sweden’s Kiki Haakonson was crowned the first Miss World, and it would be nearly 20 years before the first feminine protest against the contest took place in 1970. But even that served only to attract more attention to the event, with the first black Miss World, Jennifer Hosten, crowned the same year.
But is it still that memorable today?
According to statistics released by the pageant, the first time it came to Sun City in SA in 1992, the event drew a viewership of 1.8 billion. By 2008 that figure was down to one billion.
Bam’s decision this year to withdraw in favour of her first princess, Remona Moodley, definitely got South Africans talking – more than they usually do about Miss World, anyway.
Moodley is excited, telling Weekend Argus she’s always wanted to do Miss World more than Miss Universe. “I’ve always had a fascination with Miss World,” she admits.
Her view is that beauty pageants are indeed still relevant in society today – but the roles of the winners have changed, she says.
“Back then, all you had to be was a pretty face. But now you have to do something. You have to come as a package,” she explains ahead of the big event next month.
Moodley has a degree in electrical engineering and is a director of a non-profit organisation.
First princess of Miss SA Teen 2009, Lucky Mthembu, feels the same.
She says beauty pageants have provided her with exposure that has allowed her to be a positive influence in her home town of Pietermaritzburg.
“I’ve had the pleasure of going to schools to give talks, advice and take some of the classes, and to also judge numerous community building and youth awareness campaigns,” she says.
She agrees that pageants are still relevant, but bemoans the fact that they no longer get the relevant exposure.
“Pageants allow for the use of beauty to influence change, just like Esther in the Bible. It may sound clichéd, but ambassadors of change are what we strive to be,” the 21-year-old says.
It’s been a while since Yolanda Kloppers took the Miss SA crown, but she’s adamant that titles such as this open the door to many opportunities for the winners.
She says she used her title to do numerous charity events, and from there she had opportunities to get involved in the modelling industry.
But she admits that times have changed.
“As time progressed, there was a dip in Miss SA and beauty pageants as a whole. Or perhaps I’m just getting older and becoming less interested,” she says.
But occasionally she sees signs of a “bit of a revival”.
“I see it may be getting popular again. The media seem to be interested and the winners are appearing in newspapers more often.”
That may well be thanks to the Bam controversy, which indeed garnered a good few headlines.
Another former Miss SA,
Kerishnie Naiker, says that while pageants themselves don’t benefit communities, what individual winners choose to do with the title can indeed help others.
As a qualified pharmacist, Naiker says she tried to use her 1997 title to influence the medical profession.
Her 18-month reign made her the longest-reigning title holder and the first Miss SA to participate in both Miss World and Miss Universe, where she placed in the top five and top 10 respectively.
“I met Madiba a week after winning the title and I developed a social relationship with him during my reign. As soon as my reign was over, I asked to meet him again to ask him to be patron to my health-care initiatives.”
Naiker has facilitated building nine tuberculosis centres (the TB Free project) and three hospitals in the country. She has also built the Chatsworth Youth Centre in Durban, which provides recreational activities for the youth.
Naiker remains committed to health care, continuing to work with the government and NGOs to improve accessibility to health care and to provide quality health care to indigent patients.
“Several beauty queens claim to want to save the world, but what are they actually doing to change it?” she asks.
These beauty contests, she says, present a phenomenal opportunity to be able to make a difference in society, but only if the winner is “mindfully driven, willing and not necessarily self-serving”.
She doesn’t support pageant winners posing scantily-clad for pictures on the back pages of newspapers, and says it’s disappointing to see Miss SA deteriorate in this way.
“I’d rather be remembered as a health-care activist and philanthropist than to be categorised as a former Miss SA,” Naicker says.
The Miss SA office is adamant that the pageant is still a competition that exists to serve the community, and points out that Bam supports an Alexandra-based charity, the Thuthuzela Children’s Home.
But when it comes down to it, the voice of the people will have the final say – like one Basheerah Maketha, who tweets: “They still have those?” - Sunday Argus
* l If you do care, Miss World takes place in China on August 18.