Last year, the Miss Universe New Zealand pageant was one of the best natured ones I’ve judged here. What went on backstage was a group of contestants getting on with one another, with none of the nastiness that one might have read of previous years from certain parties on the blogosphere. (Accusations of rigging always make me laugh, considering the arguing that sometimes goes on in the judging room. If you weren’t in there, keep your trap shut.) The mainstream media, too, were generally positive toward the win by Katie Taylor, whose year—in fact, it’s closer to 13 months this time—is coming to a close.
Right now, it’s looking very positive for 2010. Last year, I had the chance to judge two pageants: chairing the international panel at Fröken Sverige, and doing my third Miss Universe New Zealand. The girls are venturing to Wellington on Sunday to the Museum Hotel; the ﬁnals, meanwhile, are at the Duxton Hotel. It’s characteristic of the Wellington way that two competing hotels can put rivalry aside and come together for a pageant that will bring cred and publicity to the capital city.
In fact, there’s a far more positive buzz in Wellington than there ever was in the two Auckland-based Miss Universe New Zealands that I had judged. Maybe part of this is to do with the more accommodating nature of Wellingtonians; or perhaps New Zealand has come of age and is no longer hostile to beauty pageants. Political correctness is one thing, but there’s a time to recognize that some pageants have moved on from objectiﬁcation. There is a lively Miss Wellington pageant, I am told (due to a potential conﬂict of interest I have to decline invitations to attend), which no doubt has helped with the national pageant’s reception.
When I look at this site’s stats, our story on Malika Ménard’s Miss France win last year received far more hits than our stories on Katie’s win. You might say that this is due to the larger population of the French Republic and her territories, but bear in mind that there were many French media covering the event. For there to be that much interest in an English-language site, there must be something about the way the French embrace beauty pageants. After all, the contest remains televised live on a national, free-to-air network, and the negativity that afﬂicted Miss New Zealand during the 1990s has either been weathered or never been struck. However, they are quite happy with their idea of femininity, and they seem to have no problem having a female presidential candidate and plenty of women in power. Beauty pageants don’t seem to stop the continued empowerment of women, even if certain glass ceilings still need to be shattered and inequity remains in the system.
One might think that a mayoral candidate would be the ﬁrst to cite political correctness. But I don’t believe in taking away a contest that helps build internal pride and conﬁdence. While New Zealand has not yet done away with the swimwear component—something that Fröken Sverige managed to do some years ago—there are aspects of the contest that I champion.
We have, for instance, never voted in the stereotypical bimbo as a winner. To even be considered for the title, there is a gruelling interview process. Fail that, and you can kiss goodbye to the crown. We want contestants to give solid answers, not what they think we want to hear. We judge them on cosmopolitanism and global awareness. Every Miss Universe New Zealand who has emerged from our pageant has been une citoyenne du monde, someone who could hold their own when they get to a foreign country for the ﬁnal.
There is one element that I admit that we have not conquered: why are the girls predominantly thin? As a fashion magazine publisher, this question has surfaced regularly when it comes to photo shoots and catwalk coverage. However, I believe it is entirely conceivable for a contestant who is of an average size and up to enter and win. A healthy average-size contestant will get further than one who has starved herself. We shun those with surgical enhancements—let’s not kid ourselves: despite the rules, it’s obvious that some of those who are in the international pageant have had work done. Our purpose is not only to ﬁnd someone who will compete well, but represent this country proudly. Last time I looked, New Zealand was not about fakery, and neither should our winner. Size does not matter, and given that young women under 5 ft 5 in have placed in the ﬁnal ﬁve, I am conﬁdent that we have no “type” in mind when we head into the judging room.
Recently, someone on my Facebook page asked why we keep voting in blondes (four winners in four consecutive years, 2006–9). The answer is, as hard as it is to believe, coincidence. I even said last year, inside the judging room, that, statistically, I expected a brunette to win (no redheads were among the contestants in 2009). However, those who were present will have been impressed by Katie’s performance on the evening gown segment, propelling her to the top of a very tight contest.
My duties with the pageant begin this Saturday, with the ﬁnals on June 5, the following week. During the week I will spend plenty of time with the contestants, to see how they interact, giving me an idea of how well they will handle the international competition. I expect to meet a very talented group of young women who have their heads screwed on straight, and actually hope for a tight contest.
I invite those who want to see the event live to reserve tickets online, and make a separate online payment to the organizers, via this website. You should be able to dispel some of the rumours, and get an idea of just how tough it is to ﬁnd a winner from among a group of talented, intelligent women.
Meanwhile, I’ll try to update readers on how the competition is going as the contestants arrive in Wellington. Follow us on Twitter at Lucire.—Jack Yan