Tag Archives: beauty pageant

Miss Real African beauty pageant: A women empowerment controversy

“A real African woman has to be a big, full figured, confident and responsible woman.”

This is what pageant coordinator Florence Banda’s responded with when asked why she felt there is a need for a beauty contest dedicated to Malawian plus size women. According to Mrs. Banda, full figured women have been on the sideline for too long in the beauty world.

Promoting her event as the only beauty contest recognizing true traditional beauty, this idea emerged back in 2009 specifically targeting women weighted above 85kg.

Mrs. Real African beauty was created in order to empower oversized women. According to many Malawians, though, full figured ladies are praised in Malawi since they are perceived as healthier and in a good financial situation because they can afford quality food and services.

This is the case of Madalo Chimalizeni, a 29 years old make-up artist currently studying human assessment management at Malawi’s polytechnic continuing education centre (CEC). On February 24th 2012 she became Blantyre’s Miss Real African beauty defeating the nine other contestants.

“The competition was tough. I’m very proud of my body and I’m not afraid to show it,” she said.

Even though she never experienced any problems as a plus size woman, she explained that it was important for her to show all the full figured women that they are capable of achieving success.

“African women need to boost their self-esteem. Many of them are very shy; they need to be out there.”

Tradition meeting progress

Participant number 6 whipping the floor wearing a traditional Malawian dress.

Mrs. Chimalizeni wishes to join an institution to help abused women and encourage them to keep their heads up through these difficult times. Funny enough though that this confident empowered educated woman subscribed to many controversial gestures during the competition such as reenacting a traditional woman wiping the floor or bowing down on her knees to the minister of tourism in order to receive her crown.

The third category in which the ladies of Miss Real African beauty compete in was entitled Traditional behaviors. Each and every one of them had to parade in front of the judges wearing traditional clothing reenacting everyday chores while the audience widely clapped and screamed as a sign of approbation.

“This is what makes this pageant unique. This is how an African woman should behave every day in the morning. These are the unique skills that only African women have,” Deguzman Kaminjow proudly said as the host of the contest and director of FD communications.

As more women walked across the stage, Mr. Kaminjow spoke about appropriate women behaviors which included gentleness and sensibility. “Women are supposed to cry”, he said.

When contestant number two, Nancy Chisale, was asked how she will help empower Malawian women her answer was chokingly vague:

“I will help them do things that would keep them busy so they don’t do bad things like going out,” she said.

Minister of tourism Daniel Liwimbi was also present as a special guest. While sharing a few words with the public, he explained how Miss Real African beauty was an innovative event that will potentially attract more tourism since Malawi and Zimbabwe are the only countries in Africa holding pageant dedicated to curvy women.

“We are establishing the role of full figured women in the development of our country”, he said.

Only ten out of the 18 women who initially subscribed to the contest actually showed up to compete, most of them withdrawing due to the pressure of their husbands.

“People think models are prostitutes or putting themselves on the market”, admits Banda.

When asked about how she is including everyone in her fight for women empowerment, considering that most Malawians are regular size females, Banda said that her message is to promote self-acceptance for all regardless of their weight.

“Some people are born big, it’s in their genes. These are the people we are promoting, we are not pushing slim ladies to eat”, she concluded.

Women all over the world are pressuring themselves to follow the various social standards they belong to. If fighting for women empowerment is what Mrs. Real African beauty is all about, reducing women to a stereotypical image and idealistic traditional behaviors surely is not the way to do so.

Beauties and the Beasts

“They drugged me, and I started killing,” he said.

“I chopped off hands,” said another.

They were just boys, who couldn’t have been more than 10, but had seen more violence as child soldiers in Liberia than anyone should see in a lifetime.

As these boys, and several others like them, with equally horrific stories appeared on screen, they begged God for forgiveness.

Then, a video montage of Africans armed with machine guns shooting fellow Africans at close range. They were just random people caught up in the ravages of war.

Bodies hit the floor.

Repeatedly.

Blood spilled.

Repeatedly.

Civilians, who had been maimed with machetes, or small explosives, held their severed limbs, as a shocked and saddened audience couldn’t help themselves but stare at one of the two video screens on either side of a stage.

It was an assault of the senses in surround sound.

The 300 people in the audience, seated under the hauntingly beautiful lighting of chandeliers in the main conference room at the ritzy La Palm Beach Hotel, must have found this horrific imagery quite odd on a night dedicated to beauty.

So did Ekow Blankson, the affable, smooth-talking MC of the event that had brought everyone together that evening, the 2010 Miss ECOWAS Ghana pageant. “I know the images you just saw were disturbing,” said Blankson. “But the show must go on.”

2010 Miss ECOWAS winner, Ramatu Sidic

The annual Miss ECOWAS Ghana beauty pageant is one of many pageants in Ghana. It’s organized by Ghana-based event management group 702 Productions and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Commission. It’s not only a “cultural showcase of Ghanaian beauty and intellect,” but it’s also a chance for the 14 delegates, from all over Ghana to advocate for issues relevant to peace building and development in the ECOWAS region.

This year, the focus took aim at the eradication of small arms and light weapons, of which an estimated 30 million are smuggled, sold and traded in Africa, resulting in the imagery that had just stunned the audience.

But as MC Blankson suggested, the show went on, in typical pageant style. There were a series of catwalks in traditional outfits representing each delegate’s region. There was also a showcase of breathtaking fashion from up and coming Ghanaian designers, after which, the 14 beauties were whittled down to ten.

There were musical interludes and dance performances as contestants, no doubt, ran around chaotically backstage changing outfits.

Also, as expected, there was an esteemed panel of judges, comprised of prominent Ghanaians from the business community and public office, who posed questions to the delegates about issues related to politics, peacekeeping and development. Of course, there were many beautiful contestants, ranging in age from 20 to 25 years old who had primped and prepped for this evening for months.

There were glossed lips, perfectly coiffed black curls, and huge pearly white smiles that, if pageant clichés are true, were perhaps held firmly in place during those tense elimination periods, with Vaseline.

What was quite unexpected though, as the top 10 became five and the costumed strutting was replaced with “peace speeches” from three delegates, was the spotlight shifting from the beauty contest to the actual issues in the ECOWAS nations.

“We need to work more to empower the young people, especially women,” said delegate number 11, 25-year-old Kaimo Lutterodt.

“The youth have no jobs so they turn to crime,” Lutterodt continued. “Companies need to introduce apprentice schemes for young Ghanaians.”

Miss ECOWAS contestant shows off traditional outift from the northern region

Lutterodt, an articulate crowd favourite, entered the competition because she was “dedicated to the meaningful cause.” She also stood to win 3000 Ghana Cedis ($2,200 CAD), with a small ransom of other prizes and the chance to represent Ghana at the 2010 Peace Pageant at Sierra Leone in November.

Though the prizes and bragging rights alone were surely a strong motivator for the contestants, many of them, like Lutterodt, expressed a similar, desire to be ambassadors for Ghana so that they could address key issues.

Like 21-year-old communications student, Edna M. Agamah who said “the biggest challenge to youth in Ghana is that old men and women don’t know when to retire.”

If the ECOWAS pageant were awarded on crowd support, the thunderous applause and laughter that erupted after Agamah’s comment alone would have guaranteed her the diamond encrusted crown.

But instead, Agamah finished a respectable third, with 22-year-old year old Ramatu Sidic, from Accra taking the title.

Like so many pageants before, a stream of tears, a swarm of photographers and a thousand flashes followed as the former Miss ECOWAS, Sherilyn Reindorf Partey handed over of the proverbial scepter to Sidic.

It was definitely a night honouring the potential in 14 African beauties, which seemed fitting in a country renowned for its own beauty and potential. Initially, I was skeptical about whether a beauty pageant would empower young Ghanaian women and raise awareness about the issues that they face.

As the night wore on, my cynicism subsided.

All this was done, to my complete surprise, tastefully, though still with a lot of T&A: thought-provoking and articulate dialogue.