Me and Lina Hane, Miss Sweden Universe, September 14, 2007
A while back out of sheer desperation with what I read about how Sweden was dealing with their Miss Sweden Universe (Nya Fröken Sverige) event, I searched out who was running it. A few days later I met with the most considerate and charming CEO of Panos Emporio, Mr Panos himself, who after having been in the jury for some years, decided to take over the whole event in an attempt to turn the tide in Sweden back to the glamorous and high prestige event it had once been.
The treatment Miss Sweden gets in the press was so far removed from my own experiences when I took part in the Miss Universe final in 1999 that I hardly recognized what I read in the Swedish newspapers. How come the same event was seen so different in Sweden, and why?
We met and talked several times about what had all but brought the Miss Sweden concept to a standstill. I was stunned at the amount of work he had put into his attempt to turn the tide. However, branding is no easy task and the reputation of a brand can live on for years to come and is slow to change.
Without going into the explanations and thoughts we discussed during a few weeks this autumn, I still can’t help but wonder why is it that Top Model and Big Brother can draw so much more attention, viewers and participants than Nya Fröken Sverige?
I knew where I wanted to take the Miss Singapore concept in 1999 and I can’t help thinking it a terrible waste that the Swedish organizers are left so much to fight this out on their own.
What I’m going to talk about here is how much this is costing Sweden on two levels. The individual and the national.
In the press, a lot of critique is directed at the event from Swedish feminists. A voice from women for the good of women. But in my view, nothing could be more misdirected than that critical feminist voice, if the result of which is to rob the younger generation of women of their chance to express their femininity and feminine qualities. There is nothing wrong with being a woman and showing that one is beautiful.
Of course one can say that it is not fair to compete with beauty, which has been “given by nature” since not everyone is born beautiful. But then again, not all of us are born Beckhams and with an inherent talent at football or not all of us are Michael Jordans or Tiger Woods. But there exist football, basketball and golf. So why should not someone born beautiful and smart be allowed to show it and heck, even compete in it?
And no, people do not become “beauty queens” or win beauty competitions without training. Just as becoming a pro tennis player or a world class footballer requires training, so does the beauty queen need training in self-presentation, public speaking and as I found out, foreign diplomacy.
In reality, appearing at a beauty pageant takes much more brains and guts than most people would want to believe.
Costly to the individual
I cannot take feminist criticisms as serious and doing any good for women in general, when they say taking part in a beauty pageant is degrading. In my view, what are degrading today are reality shows who really put smut into the faces of viewers. The public lives of Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton and the lot of other young celebrities out there, abusing drugs, being thrown in jail and being too engulfed by the media to even see where their own life is heading. To me, that is degrading.
Speaking from my own experience, where I was Singapore’s delegate to the Miss Universe pageant in 1999, in Trinidad and Tobago, being in a swimsuit in front of a panel of judges was a very small part of the event. It also takes guts and confidence to know who you are and to keep your poise in front of more than a few critical eyes – and face the very real possibility of not making it to the top i.e. failure.
I was a nervous wreck when it came to the swimwear round but it was something I needed to do for myself, a test of my character – do I have that guts and personality my country is looking for in its international delegate? And if I fail, will I be able to pick myself up and walk away with dignity and good sportsmanship?
I met a lot of young girls out there who were brave enough to show up and try. I have seen many of them become role models and leaders for the younger generation in their countries. They knew what they wanted and they knew who they were. It takes strength of character to take public criticism and to walk away standing tall if need be.
So my point is that it is not one bit degrading for women to participate in a pageant. It is a sign of stupidity, short sightedness and sheer myopia to look at it in that way. In reality this kind of events are giving young women many career opportunities and a chance to network with the right persons, to travel, to meet people and to lay a solid foundation to any career they would want to have. They will also have a great platform from which they can speak their mind and be listened to. They will have a voice and speak for the women who are silenced.
To DEPRIVE these young girls the chance to get this opportunity of a lifetime and to deprive them of the networking opportunity is costly. Not only for the girl who does not get to represent her country in the pageant but also to the younger generation who are looking on. If Miss Sweden is branded as a bimbotic venture and as sexist, then that will be branded into the minds of the future generations of women. And where would they go with their ambitions and their wish to be seen and heard? To Top Model? Big Brother? I would rather have found it perfectly understandable if the male part of our society would have put their foot down and said no, this is unfair – to us males.
Really, why don’t the men in our society get this chance? A chance for THEIR voices to be heard in a similar manner? That would put things in perspective wouldn’t it? Now as things are, I do think it is unfair to the males in this society to not have the same opportunity to express themselves. But then again, if given a chance to choose, I think that most men would prefer to excel and show off their skills at football, ice hockey, professional wrestling or drag racing.
Singapore’s national costume and swimwear in Trinidad and Tobago, 1999.
Costly to Sweden
When I was sent to Trinidad and Tobago to represent Singapore on the international scene I was absolutely untrained in diplomacy, foreign politics and international networking. Like so many others, I actually thought it was “just a beauty pageant”. All I had to do was to walk around and look pretty, have my pictures taken, appear on stage, put on a show and voila, done and back home!
Mistake. Big mistake.
From the day I landed there I and 85 other girls were whisked away to various events, functions and social gatherings. Not one night was free.
These gatherings and events were no small events either. They were national events with guests of honour from all sides of the society, from parliament and top academics, from business and other politics. And of course all kinds of agents from media and entertainment. The who’s who list of people who could present fantastic career and business networking opportunities in their local organization and home countries goes on and on.
All these opportunities are missed out on when Miss Sweden is absent. When she is not given proper training and a solid back-up from a strong national organization.
On my part, I met with the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Education and even the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago during the Miss Universe 1999 pageant. And absolutely NOBODY treated me like an air-headed beauty queen. Instead, I found myself answering questions on Singapore’s trade, its finance sector, its education system, its history and in which direction Singapore was moving ahead in terms of information technology etc. It was a good thing, I happened to be able to answer most of those these questions thanks to my academic background at that time. But I did go onto the international scene expecting to be a beauty queen. Instead I was treated as an trade and good will ambassador during my entire stay.
What’s in store for Miss Sweden Universe?
The current Miss Sweden Universe 2007, Lina Hahne has a tough enough job in front of her. She’s studying to be a doctor and in a few months, she may be off to represent her country at the international Miss Universe finals. I do hope she will bring back that crown because Sweden has done so in the past.
It would help immensely if Sweden at large saw what she is trying to accomplish as something good and that her talents and ambitions be recognized and her efforts rewarded. She will bring Sweden on the international scene to millions of TV viewers globally.
Forget the critical beauty pageant myth that is distributed in the Swedish tabloid press. The beauty pageant entries are mostly accomplished at great costs and from the good heart of those involved. It is but the front cover to something much larger and more global in perspective. Take into consideration instead, what goes on backstage – the things that are not broadcasted at the Miss Universe entertainment show. Take into consideration the business that goes on behind the beauty pageant front and you’ll understand how big a loss it is when Sweden is not there to be seen or heard.
A last count of Swedish participants for the Miss Sweden Universe pageant rendered a miserable 3000 applicants. Former Miss South Africa 1999, Sonia Raciti Oshry just told me that Miss South Africa is a HUGE phenomenon in that country, with over 7000 applicants. And in similar manner the list goes on and on all over the world.
And no, you can’t just be beautiful to be Miss Sweden. You definitely need brains, a personality and a self confidence in you to show that personality.
Those of you who think you can cut it, I’d encourage you to apply to be the next Miss Sweden Universe.
For more reading on my experience at Trinidad and Tobago, visit this article entitled Having the globe in my hand.
And of course it’s not like we didn’t have our fun
And that um… occasional snooze between rehearsals!