Pretty hurts

The beauty pageant be­comes an un­likely po­lit­i­cal plat­form for the evolv­ing face of global beauty.

ELLE (Canada) - - Beauty - carli whitwell

ariana Miyamoto isn’t a beauty queen; she’s a beauty rev­o­lu­tion­ary. In March, the Na­gasaki-raised model, who is half Ja­panese and half black, be­came the first bira­cial per­son to com­pete in and be crowned Miss Uni­verse Ja­pan.

Un­for­tu­nately, along with the tiara, sash and ti­tle came a star­tling back­lash as Miyamoto was at­tacked by so­cial-media trolls for not be­ing “Ja­panese enough.”

Ja­pan is one of the most ho­mog­e­nized coun­tries in the world: Less than 2 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion is hafu, or mixed race. And in a coun­try where fair skin, thick, straight black hair and red but­ton lips are tra­di­tional hall­marks of beauty, Miyamoto’s caramel skin and curly, afro­tex­tured hair marked her as an out­sider long be­fore she stepped onto the pageant stage. “I was crit­i­cized by my class­mates. Ev­ery­one would avoid hold­ing hands with me on field trips,” says Miyamoto. “I was told to ‘go back to Amer­ica,’ even though I was born and raised in Ja­pan.”

Even in the mul­ti­cul­tural melt­ing pot that is the United States, pageant con­tes­tants who don’t nec­es­sar­ily re­sem­ble Drop

Dead Gor­geous’ Kirsten Dunst or Miss Con­ge­nial­ity’s San­dra Bul­lock strug­gle to find a niche on­stage and off in a world that—in­ten­tion­ally or not—seems to side­line those who look dif­fer­ent.

“I grew up watch­ing Miss Amer­ica, and I gen­uinely felt that I couldn’t be in this world be­cause I didn’t look a cer­tain way: the stereo­typ­i­cal blond-haired, blue-eyed girl you might as­so­ciate with the pageant,” says Nina Davu­luri, from Syra­cuse, N.Y., who in 2013 be­came the first In­dian Amer­i­can to win Miss Amer­ica, a com­pe­ti­tion she en­tered with the hope that other lit­tle girls wouldn’t ex­pe­ri­ence the same iso­la­tion. Af­ter­wards, she was called a ter­ror­ist and “Miss Mus­lim”—she’s Hindu—on so­cial media. Davu­luri ig­nored haters and has since launched a “Cir­cles of Unity” so­cial-media cam­paign to en­cour­age dis­cus­sions on mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. Miyamoto, happy that “Ja­pan has taken one more step to­ward glob­al­iza­tion” by choos­ing her as Miss Uni­verse Ja­pan, wants to travel and lec­ture on cul­tural unity.

There are still many hur­dles, but Paola Nunez Valdez, who in May be­came the first Miss Uni­verse Canada of Latin Amer­i­can de­scent, ar­gues that pageants now of­fer a more evolved mes­sage of race and beauty—es­pe­cially in Canada. “I am grate­ful that I live in a coun­try that ac­cepts peo­ple from all over the world re­gard­less of their ap­pear­ance, race or re­li­gion,” says Valdez, who was born in the Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic and moved to Canada with her fam­ily when she was 10. Pageants, she adds, are more about em­pow­er­ing women than the “per­fect 10” face and body any­way. “The re­al­ity is that we are not all per­fect nor [do we] fit a nor­ma­tive def­i­ni­tion of beauty.” And that rev­e­la­tion is a beau­ti­ful thing.

Ariana Miyamoto, Nina Davu­luri, Paola Nunez Valdez

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