Tuesday Column By VICTORIA NGOZI IKEANO
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Beauty contests or pageants are now in vogue. They are springing up like mushrooms hither and thither such that almost every state now has a crowned beauty queen, like Miss Ondo, Miss Anambra, Miss Rivers, Miss Kaduna, etc. In addition, we now have crowned beauty queens for specific events and sectors, such as Miss Calabar Festival, Miss Tourism, Miss Campus, etc; and institutions too like Miss University and so on. No event, festival or carnival seems to be complete without a beauty queen being selected for it. Expectedly, pageant organizers are multiplying in leaps and bounds.
In bygone days there used to be only one beauty contest – Miss Nigeria – put together by then oldest surviving newspaper house in the country, Daily Times of Nigeria (DTN). DTN had exclusive right to the Miss World competition where winners of the Miss Nigeria contest participated. Later, as seemingly bad times fell on DTN, Silverbird group stepped in and started organizing “the most beautiful girl in Nigeria (MBGN)” contest. It aligned itself with Miss Universe competition to which it sponsored its own MBGN winners.
Beauty pageants got a boost in the country and Nigerians became more interested in them when we woke up many years ago to hear the unexpected news that a Nigerian had won the Miss World competition. Many Nigerians were excited, the media feasted on it, and the government promoted it as one of it’s, and by extension Nigeria’s, notable feats. Agbani Darego was the crowned world beauty queen, a.k.a. Miss World. Later, we awoke to the news that a Nigerian had made another conquest, winning the Face of Africa competition, in the person of Oluchi.
And soon, young girls aged between 18 and 28 years started falling over themselves to be beauty queens, attracted by the mouth-watering bounties that go with being a beauty queen and, of course, the accompanying fame of being a pageant winner. Whether as Miss Nigeria, Miss MBGN or Face of Nigeria, winners are assured of brand new luxury cars, over N200,000 monthly salary for at least a year and endorsements from commercial outfits. Not surprisingly, some contestants unscrupulously started cutting corners in their desperate bid to become beauty queens (I remember a beauty queen was stripped of her crown for cheating), just as organizations surfaced offering special coaching sessions for a fee to potential pageant participants to enable them emerge victorious.
However, the criteria for choosing the most pretty Nigerian girl by these organizations are foreign, set according to the white man’s standards. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. In the eyes of Europeans and Americans, a skinny lady is a beauty to behold. For us Africans, we sing praises to the plump, well-apportioned woman while a thin person somewhat repulses us. Generally, Africans would consider a lean person as sick more or less, while one with a plump, sturdy shape with accompanying rosy cheeks is seen as evidencing good living.
Whoever is selected as Miss Nigeria, Miss MBGN or Face of Nigeria by whatever criteria by pageant organizers cannot be said to be the prettiest in the country because the competitions are limited to those who apply to participate. Some of the most beautiful ladies in Nigeria are found in the countryside where shamelessness is still frowned at. These people by virtue of their good upbringing shy away from showing off their body. At beauty contests, the girls show off parts of their bodies in a bikini wear segment to an audience that is mixed. You can guess what many of the men would be imagining on sighting such. This is defilement through lustfulness, notwithstanding that there is no physical contact.
Until not long ago, all that a beauty queen did was paying courtesy visits to corporate and government agencies where she was lavished with personal gifts. Then they added visitations to orphanage homes, institutions for the handicapped, etc. Recently, they started forming their own non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and taking on a particular issue to focus or campaign on during their reign. These include girl child education, keeping the environment green, etc. However, this only lasts for the duration of their one-year reign after which nothing is heard about their campaigns. Instead, they dabble into commercial advertisements and promotions for personal gains thereafter. Their so-called NGOs also die a natural death, especially since the winners are still chiefly tertiary students with no working experience or experience about the outside world itself as independent persons. Their campaigns during their brief time as Miss Nigeria, Miss Face of Nigeria, Miss MGBN, etc., have little or no impact on society generally.
Essentially therefore, beauty pageants are chiefly for entertainment purposes, to feed our eyes on a beautiful face, which does not translate to any enduring values for us. Everybody likes a beautiful thing whether a physical body or nature itself. To be more beneficial to society, beauty queens could become activists after their tenure, during their working life, championing women-related issues like campaigns against prostitution, violence against women, human trafficking, etc. They could use their pretty faces to lobby our leaders at all levels to fast track policies on these matters. Their beautiful faces should not just be admired for the sake of admiration but rather they should use it as a means to a beautiful goal that would impact our society positively on a long term basis. More importantly, they should be beautiful both externally and inwardly. They should at all times strive after what is true, pure and noble in their thoughts, words and deeds.