New beauty queen is some­thing to be­hold

Toronto Star - - NEWS - Rosie DiManno usu­ally ap­pears Mon­day, Wed­nes­day, Fri­day and Satur­day.

Beauty is in the eye of the be­holder.

Those be­hold­ers — judges — last week­end chose Lau­ren Howe as the most beau­teous of them all, from a ros­ter of 65 belles, dec­o­rat­ing her with sash and tiara as Miss Uni­verse Canada 2017.

“If it were purely about beauty I would not have won, hon­estly,” Howe tells the Star.

But she is ex­traor­di­nar­ily pretty, in a con­ven­tional way, as were all the con­tes­tants.

I do not be­grudge the women their good looks. It’s an as­set, like a sharp brain or the abil­ity to hit a curve­ball.

A few years ago, Howe fell just short of the prize, com­ing in as sec­ond runner-up at the same pageant.

Which did not pre­clude the for­mer Miss Teen Canada from en­ter­ing again.

“I found my­self this year say­ing, why not give it one more go? It’s some­thing I’ve al­ways be­lieved in. And it ended up work­ing out this time.”

In 2017, beauty pageants are an anachro­nism, the ut­ter ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion of fe­males. But I won’t belit­tle Howe for pur­su­ing the ti­tle. There’s en­tirely too much of women slam­ming other women over vari­ance of opin­ion and choices when no harm­ful con­se­quence can quan­tifi­ably ac­crue from an in­di­vid­ual’s value judg­ments.

No skin off my nose if Howe is dandy with sashay­ing across a stage in a bikini.

“I’m very dif­fi­cult to of­fend,” the 24-year-old says, in a pre-emp­tive alert about where this con­ver­sa­tion might be headed. “There are stereo­types about pageants. There’s as­pects of pageants that I my­self some­times have a hard time with. But I’ve been on the in­side of it and there is an­other end to the spec­trum.”

Howe’s per­sonal spec­trum of ac­com­plish­ments and in­ter­ests would likely sur­prise many. That en­gi­neer­ing ring on her fin­ger has been hard won. “I’ve had peo­ple ask me, oh, nice ring, did you buy that?” No, she earned it with a de­gree in in­dus­trial en­gi­neer­ing from the Univer­sity of Toronto.

“Re­gard­less of pageants, I’ve al­ways faced stereo­types in my life sim­ply be­cause I was a white blond wo­man. Peo­ple don’t as­sume that I can be smart. When I say I’m an en­gi­neer, peo­ple are sur­prised. And I want that to be dif­fer­ent for my fu­ture daugh­ters. Tak­ing en­gi­neer­ing was my point to prove I can do it, I can talk the talk, I can walk the walk. I’m def­i­nitely more in­ter­ested in the busi­ness side of things, but I wanted to un­der­stand what busi­ness en­gi­neers do. So when I work with en­gi­neers, I’ll have cred­i­bil­ity.”

At the mo­ment, af­ter leav­ing her job in sales strat­egy for Adi­das, Howe has turned her con­sid­er­able in­tel­lect to tech­nol­ogy con­sult­ing and cre­at­ing her own start-up com­pany. “I’m work­ing on my own al­go­rithm — it’s like a fi­nan­cial app for peo­ple’s phones.”

See, I don’t ac­tu­ally even know what that means.

Also on Howe’s re­sume: Travel to all seven con­ti­nents, vol­un­teer­ing with non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tions in- ter­na­tion­ally, from In­dia to Nicaragua, pub­lic speak­ing and men­tor­ing — par­tic­u­larly en­cour­ag­ing fe­males to pur­sue en­gi­neer­ing as a pro­fes­sion.

“I re­ally want to spark a lot more con­ver­sa­tions about get­ting women into en­gi­neer­ing, sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, when I first started in­ter­view­ing for jobs, I re­mem­ber walk­ing into cer­tain of­fice cul­tures and think­ing, I can’t see any women here I would con­nect with. It kind of turns you off want­ing to en­ter that field. And that feel­ing should not be there.

“Hence, the more we can en­cour­age women, the more we can ex­pose them to the knowl­edge of you can con­nect with men­tors, they do ex­ist. So let’s built this com­mu­nity and al­low young women to build the skills they need be­fore it’s too late. Be­cause it’s im­por­tant that we have young women do­ing com­puter sci­ence and math and tech­nol­ogy in this day and age.”

Howe is prob­a­bly most rec­og­niz- able from her two years as in-arena host at Toronto Maple Leafs home games. That gig arose from a TV chat ap­pear­ance on Off The Record. Some­body sent her the link, she au­di­tioned and got the job. Howe cred­its her beauty pageant ex­pe­ri­ence for the poise and self-con­fi­dence that must have im­pressed those do­ing the hir­ing.

“I was com­fort­able with be­ing un­com­fort­able. Com­fort­able go­ing into a sit­u­a­tion where I had no idea what to ex­pect and out­side of my ed­u­ca­tional back­ground. That’s what I picked up through pageants. It’s all what a girl makes of it. Some might go into it be­cause, hey, it sounds cool. But if you go into it with the right mind­set, I gen­uinely be­lieve you can learn a lot about your­self and skills that can be used in a pro­fes­sional sense.”

Kind of like not freez­ing dur­ing the ques­tion phase of a pageant. Howe’s speak­ing mo­ment was a (lame) query about what it means to be Cana­dian. She cited all the usual stuff about di­ver­sity and em­brac­ing mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism. Can’t blame her for the dopey ques­tion.

At the re­cent Miss Amer­ica pageant, judges got a lot more edgy in their prob­ing. Miss Texas gave an un­equiv­o­cal re­sponse to her ques­tion about white supremacy, Don­ald Trump and Char­lottesville. “I think that the white su­prem­a­cist is­sue, it was very ob­vi­ous that it was a ter­ror­ist at­tack. And I think that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump should have made a state­ment ear­lier ad­dress­ing the fact and mak­ing sure all Amer­i­cans feels safe in this coun­try. That is the No. 1 is­sue right now.”

So much for droopy state­ments about world peace, etc.

Raised in Toronto by a sin­gle mom, Howe fell into pageantry for prac­ti­cal rea­sons. Howe was cast­ing about for univer­sity schol­ar­ships when her mother spot­ted a news story about how Miss Ken­tucky had paid off her tu­ition debt by win­nings from his Miss Teen USA ti­tle. “It was pretty much a joke from my mom. Like, hey, you can help me with univer­sity pay­ments.”

A means to an end, ex­cept Howe gen­uinely en­joyed that en­vi­ron­ment, made friend­ships and ex­ploited the op­por­tu­ni­ties. Who’s to chas­tise her for that?

As a part-time model, she also points out the dis­so­nance between how that pro­fes­sion and pageantry is viewed. “The one thing that’s al­ways con­fused me is why pageants get a strong rep­u­ta­tion for set­ting women back. When pageants al­low women to have a voice and speak to is­sues, ver­sus mod­el­ling, where you don’t have a voice. You stand and pose. But there’s no crit­i­cism among that in­dus­try like there is against pageants.”

In Novem­ber, Howe goes off to the Miss Uni­verse con­test — pre­vi­ously owned by Trump — in Las Ve­gas. Toronto’s Natalie Gle­bova won that ti­tle in 2005.

Per­haps she’ll wear the same dress from the gown por­tion of this Miss Canada, a so­phis­ti­cated high­necked white and gold num­ber, which, Howe laughs, chan­nelled her in­ner Daen­erys Tar­garyen from Game of Thrones. “Mother of dragons! Breaker of kings! It was just this mo­ment of feel­ing el­e­gant and strong and beau­ti­ful.”

You go girl.


Miss Uni­verse Canada 2017 Lau­ren Howe fell into pageantry while cast­ing about for univer­sity schol­ar­ships.

Rosie DiManno

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