“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
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.