Beauty that EM­POW­ERS



WHEN ON De­cem­ber 17, the fi­nal­ists in this year’s Miss Uni­verse pageant take to the stage of Im­pact, Muang Thong Thani, they will be rewrit­ing the his­tory of the con­test. That’s be­cause this year, the line-up of ladies in­cludes Span­ish beauty queen An­gela Ponce, the first trans­gen­der con­tes­tant to compete against “nat­u­rally born” fe­males. The Miss Uni­verse or­gan­i­sa­tion, iron­i­cally then owned by a man who is try­ing to nar­row the def­i­ni­tion of gen­der iden­tity, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, an­nounced the change in its rules six years ago, bring­ing an end to decades of dis­crim­i­na­tion against trans­gen­der women.

Paula Shugart, pres­i­dent of Miss Uni­verse or­gan­i­sa­tion, tells The Na­tion Week­end: “Since 2012, we’ve elected to fol­low the Olympics model. Some of the na­tional con­tests saw trans­gen­der en­tries in the first two or three years so we knew that one day we would see one com­pet­ing on the in­ter­na­tional stage. And here we are six years later mak­ing his­tory and cel­e­brat­ing gen­der equal­ity. The time has clearly come when ev­ery in­di­vid­ual is able to stand on their own two feet, is able to feel com­fort­able on their own skin, with who they are and able to live life to the fullest. There is a lot go­ing on in the world that is not good but what we are see­ing here is fan­tas­tic and we should cel­e­brate it.”

“Em­pow­er­ing women” is the un­der­ly­ing motto of the beauty pageant busi­ness. In­deed, the Women's Em­pow­er­ment Prin­ci­ples of­fer prac­ti­cal guid­ance to busi­ness and the pri­vate sec­tor on how to em­power women in the work­place, mar­ket­place, and com­mu­nity. De­vel­oped through a part­ner­ship be­tween UN Women and the United Na­tions Global Com­pact, the prin­ci­ples are de­signed to sup­port com­pa­nies in re­view­ing ex­ist­ing poli­cies and prac­tices, or es­tab­lish­ing new ones, to re­alise women's em­pow­er­ment and em­pha­sise the pro­mo­tion of gen­der equal­ity.

Last Wed­nes­day, the 26-year-old Span­ish beauty showed why she is be­ing tipped to walk away with this year’s crown, turn­ing out for Thai Night Gala in a stun­ning silk dress. While she is un­der­stand­ably mak­ing head­lines for be­ing the first trans­gen­der to compete in the pageant, Ponce more than mer­its at­ten­tion for her beauty and poise. Asked to what ex­tent she is af­fected by the in­evitable crit­i­cism and prej­u­dice, Ponce smiles and says she is a woman with dif­fer­ent char­ac­ter­is­tics.

She tells The Na­tion Week­end that she is very happy to be part of Miss Uni­verse this year. “It’s the be­gin­ning of many new things in my life. I’m de­lighted to get to know many beauty queens and learn about their coun­tries and also exchange my beau­ti­ful Span­ish cul­ture. It’s a great op­por­tu­nity to be part of the pageant. If I were lucky enough to be crowned Miss Uni­verse, I would give em­pha­sis to such is­sues as the lack of ed­u­ca­tion on di­ver­sity. I’d be a very dif­fer­ent type of Miss Uni­verse be­cause my ex­pe­ri­ence in grow­ing up has been so very dif­fer­ent. I’d be­come a voice for gen­der equal­ity for ev­ery group of women in­clud­ing trans­gen­der, LGBT and chil­dren as well as high­lighted the fac­tors that lead to bul­ly­ing, prej­u­dice, and vi­o­lence.”

Ponce is not the only con­tes­tant fight­ing for em­pow­er­ment. Miss Uni­verse Ja­pan 2018, Yu­umi Kato, 22, was born in Ja­pan and raised in Malaysia. With­out for­mal ed­u­ca­tion, she be­came in­de­pen­dent at an early age and fought to over­come the many hard­ships she faced. To in­spire oth­ers to fight, Kato has cho­sen a pop­u­lar Ja­panese an­i­ma­tion char­ac­ter for her na­tional cos­tume.

“I’m very ex­cited to show my na­tional cos­tume be­cause every­body knows it is very in­ter­est­ing this year – it’s Sailor Moon,” she laughs. “We are pre­sent­ing the woman war­rior as a new cul­ture of Ja­pan. We’ll move from the his­tory of the Ninja to the mod­ern Sailor Moon. Em­pow­er­ing women is im­por­tant and I have cho­sen this char­ac­ter, a women war­rior with a strong im­age, to un­der­line this year’s theme of gen­der equal­ity, I think it is time for women to stand up and be counted and I’m sure this com­ing year will be very spe­cial for women.”

Miss Uni­verse Nepal 2018 is an­other lady for whom em­pow­er­ment is a must. An ad­vo­cate for girl’s ed­u­ca­tion and pub­lic health, Manita Devkota is work­ing to change the stig­mas and ob­sta­cles that men­stru­at­ing women and girls face in Nepal. She says that this is the sec­ond time Nepal has par­tic­i­pated in the Miss Uni­verse pageant. “I come here with all the hopes and dreams of the Nepali peo­ple. I come here to make them proud. My name Manita means hon­our. I want to show the peo­ple in the world that Nepalis women are no less strong than oth­ers. They are kind, in­de­pen­dent, they have their own pas­sions and dreams. They are strong women and I hope to por- tray that in the Miss Uni­verse pageant.”

For her part, Miss Uni­verse Thai­land 2018, Sop­ida Kan­cha­narin, is full of praise for the Miss Uni­verse char­ity project Smile Train, which re­pairs de­for­mi­ties in kids born with cleft lip and palate. “Thai­land is the land of smiles. They do amaz­ing work to bring smiles to more than two mil­lion chil­dren all over the world. I am proud to be part of this project and to be able to help raise aware­ness and im­prove the well­be­ing of those suf­fer­ing from this prob­lem.”

Thai­land, which last hosted the pageant back in 2005, is us­ing the event as a stage to show­case the coun­try’s many tal­ents. Ef­forts are be­ing led by dis­tin­guished de­signer, Her Royal High­ness Princess Siri­van­navari Nari­ratana who has cre­ated a col­lec­tion of fash­ion­able swim­suits for the pre­lim­i­nary com­pe­ti­tion as well as two el­e­gant Thai silk dresses worn at Wed­nes­day’s gala evening.

As the cre­ative direc­tor of the brand that bears her name, the Princess is un­der­lin­ing her com­mit­ment to fe­male em­pow­er­ment with a de­sign on the con­cept “Across the Uni­verse”. The palette re­flects not only the Thai be­lief in the aus­pi­cious colour of the day rang­ing from red, yellow, pink, green, orange, blue and pur­ple but also rep­re­sents the idea of a world united in har­mony and peace. The swim­suits them­selves are both one and two piece and dec­o­rated with whim­si­cal gold metal em­bel­lish­ment studs. A graphic of the Neb­ula-in­spired pat­tern is dis­played on the scarf.

Her cus­tom-made dresses were worn by Miss Uni­verse Thai­land 2018, Sop­ida and Miss Uni­verse 2017, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters. In­spired by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit’s wardrobe, they re­flected the highly skilled crafts­man­ship for which the coun­try is known and com­bined mud­mee and praewa silks.

The other ladies at the gala were also at­tired in ex­quis­ite evening gowns made from Thai silk from the Sup­port Foun­da­tion un­der royal pa­tron­age and de­signed by lead­ing lo­cal brands Asava, Ek Thong­prasert, Emo­tions Ate­lier, La Bou­tique, Hook’s, Kanapot Aun­sorn, Kloset, Milin, Narong, Pat­tarat, Patinya, Present, Sur­face, Ti­payaphong, Tohns, Tube Gallery, Valen­tier, Vick­teerut, and Wisharawish.

As she pre­pared to hand over her crown, Miss Uni­verse 2017, South African Nel-Peters, thanked the or­gan­i­sa­tion for be­liev­ing in and sup­port­ing her vi­sion and her dreams as she launched her “Un­break­able” mis­sion.

“I’m pas­sion­ate about em­pow­er­ing women with the skill and knowl­edge on how to pre­vent and pro­tect them­selves and also es­cape from vi­o­lent sit­u­a­tions. I’ve man­aged to in­tro­duce the ‘Un­break­able’ project in var­i­ous coun­tries in­clud­ing Mex­ico, In­done­sia, and the United States. My project is grow­ing out­side my home coun­try and my dream is to start my own foun­da­tion. Be­com­ing Miss Uni­verse 2018 is a once in a life­time op­por­tu­nity. You will never walk on the Miss Uni­verse stage again and present your coun­try on such a global stage. It is an hon­our and for me, it’s also been a life chang­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. My message to each of this year’s con­tes­tants is sim­ple: whether you win or not, Miss Uni­verse is a pow­er­ful platform. I’d like to en­cour­age each one of you to use that platform and your voice to make some mean­ing­ful changes,” she says.

From left, Miss Uni­verse Thai­land 2018, Sop­ida Kan­cha­narin, Paula Shugart, pres­i­dent of Miss Uni­verse or­gan­i­sa­tion, and Miss Uni­verse 2017, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters.

Miss Uni­verse Spain, An­gela Ponce From left: Miss Uni­verse Nepal, Miss Uni­verse Namibia, and Miss Uni­verse South Africa

From left: Miss Uni­verse Ukraine, Miss Uni­verse Uruguay, Miss Uni­verse United States Vir­gin Is­lands, Miss Uni­verse Viet­nam, and Miss Uni­verse Zam­bia

From left: Miss Uni­verse An­gola, Miss Uni­verse Ar­gentina, and Miss Uni­verse Ar­me­nia

Miss Uni­verse Ja­pan

Miss Uni­verse Mex­ico

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