Miss Universe pageant under fire
MEXICO CITY, Saturday (AP) - This year's Miss Universe pageant is missing one of its most noted contestants: Miss Sweden, a statuesque blonde whose country is one of the few to win the crown three times.
Isabel Lestapier Winqvist, 20, has dropped out because Swedes say the Miss Universe competition, airing live Monday night from Mexico City's National Auditorium, is degrading to women and weighed down by scandals.
"We're taking a big beating by being linked to it," said Panos Papadopoulos, the organizer of the Miss Sweden contest, which scrapped its swimsuit competition and allowed women to apply for the position like any other job after heavy criticism from feminists.
Participants in the pageant also are breaking the mold.
Miss Jamaica, 25-year-old Zahra Redwood, is the contest's first Rastafarian and the first to appear in dreadlocks. She wants judges to see her as a "Rastafarian promoting the message of peace, love and unity throughout mankind."
Miss Tanzania, Flaviana Matata, an electrical technician whose country is participating for the first time, is also challenging stereotypes of beauty with her shaved head. "I never let anyone define me neither by hair nor clothing as I believe God made me perfect as a pure, natural African woman," she said.
Donald Trump, who now co-owns the contest with NBC, says the Miss Universe Organization has redefined beauty pageants. "With each passing year our ratings continue to get better because of the beautiful and intelligent women who participate in our competitions," he declared.
But the Miss Universe competition is still judged solely on an interview and swimsuit and evening gown competitions, continuing a tradition that began with a spat over a swimsuit more than 50 years ago. California's Pacific Mills clothing company launched the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants after the 1951 Miss America, Yolande Betbeze, refused to pose in its swimsuit.
Even the outfits in this year's contest have raised eyebrows.
Miss Mexico Rosa Maria Ojeda was forced to change her gown to a fruit-and-vegetables motif after Mexicans were outraged by the bullet-studded belt and images of hanging bodies and firing squads in her skirt's original design, which referred to the bloody Cristero war, a Roman Catholic rebellion in the 1920s. Miss Jamaica donned a Bob Marley T-shirt to honor her country's culture, while Miss Ecuador, Lugina Cabezas, appeared holding a fake, bloodstained banderilla, a colorful barbed stick stuck in the back of bulls during bullfighting, outraging animal rights groups.
Organizers say the Miss Universe contest carefully selects women who are intelligent, well-mannered and cultured, and dispute the notion that beauty queens are clueless about international issues. "We do change with the times," said Paula M. Shugart, president of the Miss Universe Organization. "It really opens doors for people. It's nice for us to pick somebody who is not known, give them a shot and change their life forever."