Jaws dropped when Miss Grand International head Nawat Itsaragrisil announced that the 2019 edition of Miss Grand International will be held in Venezuela. Venezuela? Isn’t this country mired in a major crisis? Is it appropriate to stage a pageant in a country with that kind of dire situation? How can the safety of the contestants be ensured? Many people were skittish about this prospect, and it did affect the roster of candidates competing this year. From its inception, it never fell below 71 contestants, but this year there was a big drop in the roster as only 60 contestants representing countries and territories are participating–this including a very splashy latecomer.
The choice of a country run by a tyrant is surprisingly not out-of-character for the supposedly tranquil, peace-loving Thais. As John Oliver pointed out, they actually think of Adolf Hitler as a marketable icon, alongside casually using the Nazi swastika imagery.*1
*1 The swastika is supposedly a benign symbol of divinity and spirituality that unfortunately was tainted when Hitler appropriated it for his movement. It has come to the point that for Hindu houses that I see, they have to use a variant of a swastika with dots on them to demonstrate the original intention of this symbol.
Miraculously, though, so far the events in this pageant went on with barely a hitch. Sure, it’s obvious that all events are held in “safer”, more affluent sections of the city, and so far the contestant and the organizers are safe. Now, Nawat has announced that the conduct of the pageant is being financed by his own pocket (or at least the Miss Grand International organization’s pocket). There is a side of me that doesn’t believe this is so, but of course at this point I can only conjecture–most likely an ally of the Maduro government with funds sourced from one of those offshore bank accounts (most likely Panama) is bankrolling this enterprise. Still we have to give them credit for presenting this country in a positive light, even if it’s to the point of sweeping its obvious problems under the rug.
International pageant website Global Beauties also came to Nawat’s defense by issuing an article about the fact that many major pageants, especially Miss Universe from the 1970s to mid-1980s, were staged in countries with dictatorial regimes. It did provide some major valid points worth pondering, but then I counter, the objection is not really about that a “bad” regime that many governments chose not to recognize, per se, but the fact that the country is in a state of hyper-inflation, with many utilities collapsing around them, that to stage such an international event in light of this seems extremely insensitive. None of the examples Global Beauties cited were in such dire economic situation when they were held as is ongoing in Venezuela.*1 Sure, handing out free tickets to the public is noble and such, but it just reminds me of the famous phrase by the Roman statesman Cicero about “bread and circuses“.
*2 Yes, let’s face it, Philippines was in a relatively good state economically when it held the famous 1974 Miss Universe pageant–few were aware that this is a game of smoke and mirrors and missed the decay setting in that manifested itself almost a decade later exacerbated by Ninoy Aquino‘s assassination.
Much has been said about Nawat’s narrow-minded notion of a beautiful figure, that he condoned the body shaming post by the eventual Thai representative to this pageant, “Coco” Arahya Suparurk, against the reigning Miss Universe Catriona Gray. Considering Catriona’s followers are like Beyonce‘s notorious Bey-hive, internet backlash was swift to the point that Nawat and Coco publicly reported the backlash to the Thai police as cyber-bullying. For a pageant that’s supposed to espouse the cause “Stop the War”, Nawat likes to provoke and stir up hostility, doesn’t he?
As one would view the formal swimsuit portraits for this year’s pageant, Nawat’s notion of an ideal body was very much in play, as we see a whole bunch of slender frames with bony ribs. It reminds me uncomfortably of the impossible standards also imposed by the fashion industry–though supposedly reforms are being made to be more accepting of “realistic” body types, this oppressive culture still prevails.
Despite my reservations about this pageant, I will still attempt to do a review of the candidates in this pageant. So strap on while we take a look at the 60 ladies brave enough to take part in this pageant.