Miss World 2014: A Preview

I didn’t cover the Miss World pageant last year because the organizers, fearing possible terrorism in Indonesia, canceled the swimsuit competition. This year the event returns to London, its original home. The finale will be on December 14, but the contestants have already arrived and the sports events are under way.

More than ever, it seems that beauty pageants mirror the themes of current news headlines. This year, most tragically, domestic violence intruded, as Miss Honduras, María José Alvarado, was murdered, along with her sister, by the sister’s ex-boyfriend, the evening before she would have flown to London.

There are always a few countries where the local pageant takes a weird turn. Like, for example, Uganda, where the Miss World contest was taken over by the Army as a means of promoting agriculture. Seriously:

This was certainly a beauty pageant with a difference. The swimsuit section was cast aside for an army-style boot camp, the milking of cows, and showing your skills at handling goats and sheep. At the awards ceremony, contestants were quizzed on farming techniques, as the hosts believe agriculture is a “Ugandan value” and should be celebrated.

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Then there is the competing World Muslimah Award, which has just wrapped up:

Dressed in headscarves and judged partly on their knowledge of the Koran, 18 finalists took part in a beauty contest with a difference in Indonesia on Friday – one exclusively for Muslims, and seen as a riposte to Western beauty pageants. …

But they were being judged not only their appearance but also on how well they could recite verses from the Koran and their views on Islam in the modern world.

“We want to see that they understand everything about the Islamic way of life – from what they eat, what they wear, how they live their lives,” said Jameyah Sheriff, one of the organizers.

The eventual winner was a 25-year-old computer scientist from Tunisia, Fatma Ben Guefrache, whose prize included a gold watch, a gold dinar and a mini pilgrimage to Mecca.

“May almighty Allah help me in this mission, and free Palestine, please, please, free Palestine and the Syrian people,” she said in a tearful acceptance speech.

Yeah, whatever. I’m not sure this is going to catch on; certainly not in the West:

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With the real thing now going on, you can follow the proceedings at the Miss World web site, which, as in past years, is barely adequate. You can also see brief videos introducing the contestants on the pageant’s YouTube channel. Here, for example, is Miss Bosnia and Herzegovina:

Betting odds are barely beginning to take shape, so, until the favorites emerge, I will just note a few contestants who strike me as strong contenders. Like Anissa Blondin, Miss Belgium:

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Rolene Strauss, Miss South Africa, a medical student who says that bungee jumping “made me reconsider everything in my life”:

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Rosetta Cartwright, Miss Bahamas, whose favorite books are Harlequin romance novels:

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And finally–for today–Miss Colombia, Leandra Garcia Caicedo, whose favorite author is Oscar Wilde:

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More coverage to come.

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