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Beauty queens who have used pageantry as a platform to further a cause

By Brooke Villanueva Published May 18, 2021 7:22 pm

Let’s talk about beauty with a purpose. 

With the captivating looks, elegant moves, and glamorous outfits of women in pageantry, it’s easy to think beauty contests are superficial. For some, it seems to be all about looking sexy in a swimsuit or turning heads in an evening gown. A part of them thinks it’s the opposite of “empowering” as it "pits women against each other."

There are people, however, who believe it goes way beyond that—and indeed, some cases have shown that it does. In fact, there are candidates that have left the viewers in awe as they walked right on the pageant stage, choosing to shed light on an important issue in their own countries.

At the national costume round of the recently-concluded Miss Universe competition, Thuzar Wint Lwin of Myanmar wore a traditional outfit, carrying a signboard with the words: “Pray for Myanmar.” It can be noted that the military has killed hundreds of people since it seized power in a coup staged on Feb. 1, according to the Associated Press. Lwin herself has been vocal about her opposition to the junta, as evident on social media and her participation in some physical protests. The piece got her the Best National Costume award at the tilt. A well-deserved win, it was. 

It wasn’t the first time a Myanmar representative has brought the matter to the pageant scene. At the Miss Grand International 2020 contest held in Thailand, Han Lay—who also took part in the aforementioned demonstrations—said in her two-minute speech, “Today, in my country Myanmar, there are so many people dying. Please help Myanmar. We need your urgent international help right now.” 

Outside of Myanmar, there are other beauty queens who have used beauty pageants as a platform to further a cause. Emily Sioma of Michigan was given only a few seconds to introduce herself at the Miss America 2018 competition, and boy, did she use it wisely. Instead of reciting her credentials at her introduction, she talked briefly about the Flint water crisis that lasted until 2019. “From the state with 84 percent of the US fresh water but none for its residents to drink, I am Miss Michigan, Emily Sioma,” she said. She did not end up bagging the highly-coveted Miss America title, but she made the rounds on social media for her brave move.

At a beauty contest in South America, model Valentina Schnitzer of Chile shocked many as she declared “the sea belongs to Bolivia” on stage. According to BBC News, she was talking about “the Pacific Ocean—the subject of a dispute between Chile and its landlocked neighbor for more than a century.” The beauty queen specifically said: “We are with you, we want to keep fighting for your rights. Really, the Chilean people, all my people, all my colleagues, the people I talk to, [say] the sea belongs to Bolivia.” As per a 2018 report on the same website, the International Court of Justice “has ruled against Bolivia. The court said Chile was not obliged to negotiate granting Bolivia access.” Former President Evo Morales then stressed, “Bolivia will never give up.” 

Moving to Peru, Miss Peru 2017 had a different approach in introducing the candidates. Instead of reciting their body measurements, they shed light on a much more important matter: violence against women—a major concern in the country, as stated on the Human Rights Watch. NBC News reported some of the speeches that were delivered at the pageant:

“My name is Camila Canicoba and I represent the department of Lima. My measurements are: 2,202 cases of femicide reported in the last nine years in my country.”

“My name is Karen Cueto and I represent Lima and my measurements are: 82 femicides and 156 attempted femicides so far this year.”

Romina Lozano, who won the title then, said “3,114 women victims of trafficking up until 2014.”

In 2018, Angela Ponce made history as the first transgender contestant to compete at Miss Universe. “My hope is for tomorrow, to be able to live in a world of equality for everyone, simply for us all to understand that we are human and that we must make all our lives easier together. That reality for many people is going to change,” she said in an interview for the Miss U tilt. “If I can give that to the world, I don’t need to win Miss Universe. I only need to be here.” She may not have made it to the Top 20, but she won the hearts of many with such a huge leap.

Article thumbnails from the subjects' Instagram accounts