Thursday, January 24, 2013

THAT GIRL, THAT BODY – The Parallel History of the Swimsuit and Miss Universe

THAT GIRL, THAT BODY – The Parallel History of the Swimsuit and Miss Universe

“…tonight, we wore our swimsuits which were designed by Tala and she said that fashion is freedom and I don’t think the government should have any say in what we wear because we can all make our own personal choices.” – Jesinta Campbell, Miss Universe 2010 2nd runner-up

Borne out of Miss America 1951 Yolande Betbeze’s refusal to pose for then-sponsor Catalina swimsuit’s ad, no other beauty pageant had a more parallel history with the swimsuit than Miss Universe. In this feature we’ll see the swimsuit and Miss Universe’s colorful history together and how they both shaped the world of women and pageantry.
If she only knew what Henrietta Leaver and Vanessa Williams would do in later years

Every pageant girl knows that beauty pageants require the winner to be physically fit in order to be a role model of a healthy active lifestyle. The swimsuit competition is a way of choosing the most physically fit delegate and is usually the most dynamic and exciting segment, with lively music, exciting performers and a variety of choreographed turns and poses designed to showcase the best in each delegate’s body. But before you grab your swimsuit from the drawer, it’s good to know the series of events that made it look like what it is today.

The swimsuit that you see today is not just one man’s invention, it is a product of the innovation of different people who have changed and shaped it according to the times. However, the ancient Roman women are credited for using the first swimsuit prototype for athletic purposes.
I bet these athletes were the Sharapovas and Kournikovas of ancient times

During the 1800s to 1900s, swimsuits weren’t allowed expose any skin, and this made swimming cumbersome.
Maybe they had a different definition of fun in the 1800s.

Thanks to Annette Kellerman’s exuberance, a much more radical suit showing her arms, legs and neck was first made in 1907. She got arrested for indecency though.
Annette Kellerman got jailed for wearing this. Seriously?

Taking cue from Carl Jantzen’s wool, two-piece rowing swimsuit, several designers followed suit and made swimsuits in different fabrics and styles. Hollywood pin-up girls, including Betty Grabble and Esther Williams made fashionable swimsuits popular in the 1940s.
Esther and Betty should also be given medals for helping the US win WWII. Their posters decorated the barracks of soldiers.

In 1946, Frenchman Louis Reard released a garment more miniscule than the smallest swimsuit. True, he’s not the only one who thought of this before but Louis knew how to capture the fancy of consumers than the other swimsuit innovator. Hoping to capitalize on the popularity of current events, he named it the bikini, after the atoll where the French used to test their nuclear arsenal. The trend caught on quite well and the 1951 Miss World delegates wore bikinis for the swimsuit competition, but it was short lived, and after it was declared sinful by the Vatican, the bikini was passed over by pageant girls in favor of the one-piece swimsuit.
Men nowadays are reaping the benefits of his innovation

After innovation is reinvention and designers were looking for ways to make the swimsuit more exciting. Mother Nature as always, has the answer, animal prints. In 1950, swimsuit designers released the first jaguar print swimsuits. Other prints followed suit. Much later, the fierce queens of Miss Universe 2007 strutted in zebra-print bikinis from BSC’s African Queen Line.
Seductive Angolan beauty Micaela Reis certainly has the animal appeal to pull this off.

In the 1954 edition of Miss Universe, Brazil debuted with a bang by sending the exquisite Martha Rocha who gave eventual winner Miriam Stevenson a fight for the title. The two were locked in a tie and although the judges found Martha’s face more beautiful, her 36-23-38 figure in swimsuit was out of standard compared to Miriam’s 36-24-36. Nevertheless, Martha and her ample hips were the most popular in parade that year.
Martha’s hips certainly didn’t lie

While beauty queens had to content themselves with one-piece swimsuits, Hollywood actresses were getting the adoration of (male) fans through bikinis. In 1956, French actress Brigitte Bardot gained worldwide attention wearing a bikini in her first serious film “And God Created Woman.” Then in 1962, Swiss actress Ursula Andress stunned the world as seashell diver Honey Rider in Dr. No wearing this iconic belted bikini. Later on, various sports figures, models and actresses continue to influence the popularity of bathing suit styles.
Brigitte allegedly did more for France’s economy than the entire French automobile industry.

1964 saw the first ever swimsuit edition of Sports Illustrated. Stumped during the winter months, editor Andre Laguerre asked fashion reporter Jule Campbell to help fill some space, including the cover, with a model. She found Babette March and since then, Sports Illustrated has launched the latest styles in swimwear as well as the careers of several supermodels, most notably Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum and Elle MacPherson.
Babette was obviously “on top” after this issue was released.

In the 1967 edition of Miss Universe two beauties were again locked in a tie – Venezuela’s Mariela Perez Branger and USA’s Sylvia Hitchcock. During those days, the judges were reportedly looking for not just a beautiful face but a well-formed torso, a modest bustline and a straight back in swimsuit. The judges decided to go with Sylvia’s torso and awarded her the title.
The top 2 female torsos of 1967

As an international pageant, Miss Universe must always be conscious of the customs of the country it’s being staged. In 1973, the girls were not allowed to wear their swimsuits inside the historic Odeon Herod Atticus Theater where sacred religious rituals were once performed. Instead they were made to wear custom toga dresses, like modern-day Greek goddesses.
I’m sure the Greek gods loved the dresses too.

Post coronation, Miss Universe 1980 Shawn Weatherly told the press that her job was not to exhibit her body but to make friends with people from all nations. Yes, she ate her words, but in a good way. Shawn would exhibit her fit body many times, but in the beach as she stars in the documentary Ocean Quest and the hit series Baywatch.
From saving endangered sea creatures to saving drowning humans

Miss Italy 1982 and eventual 2nd runner-up Cinzia Fiordipointi was a media darling due to her scene-stealing antics. In a photo shoot she ditched the Catalina one-piece and wore a tanga which didn’t go well with the officials.
Now this is more revealing than a tanga.

Incidentally, the same year, pretty Odette Scrooby of South Africa got the bitter realization that the swimsuit competition occupies a large chunk of the composite score. She was given an abysmal score in the swimsuit finals and despite a commendable evening gown performance she was left out of the top 5. A déjà vu of sorts happened in 2000, when Colombia’s Catalina Acosta had the same experience.
Gee… They even wore swimsuits of the same color.

Miss Indonesia 1983 Andi Botenri got a stern warning from her country’s leaders after seeing her swimsuit photos in a local paper. Andi still competed in the swimsuit competition in the prelims. Indonesia would never compete again until 1995.
Well, she knew the importance of the swimsuit competition. Back home, they didn’t.

Paraphrasing Shandi Finnesey in Miss Universe 2011, delegates wear the same swimsuits in order for us to be not distracted by weird patterns or suits, so we could see the girl. During the finals, delegates always wear identical swimsuits, same color, and same style. 1997 ssignalled the return of the bikini in the pageant stage as several semifinalists competed in bikinis while some stuck to the one-piece but they were all made of the same material.
Curacao’s Verna Vasquez stuck to the one piece and yet topped this round.

2002 was a historic year for the swimsuit as Russia’s Oxana Fedorova earned the highest recorded swimsuit score in the history of Miss Universe with 9.88. Although she didn’t have the best body that night, her pretty face and confidence more than made up for it. After all, according to Carsson Kressley “Swimsuit competitions are always from the neck-up.” Sadly, Anisa Kospiri of Albania was the last semifinalist that we saw compete in a one-piece swimsuit.
Bye-bye one-piece!

In 2010, the swimsuit became a symbol of freedom when Miss Universe commissioned Dar Be Dar (Persian for door to door) to provide the girls’ swimsuits. Apparently, the owner and designer Tala Rassi got 40 lashes in Iran for wearing a miniskirt when she was few months shy of graduating from high school. Later, at 27 years old, and able to wear many miniskirts, she is already an established swimwear designer in the US. Evidently, her ordeal was thinly disguised in one of the final questions which landed on Jesinta Campbell’s lap. Jesinta in turn gave the most memorable answer of that night and finished 2nd runner-up.
Honestly I find the swimsuit tacky, but it’s Vegas anyway.

2011 saw exotic Sao Paolo, Brazil play host to the beauties of Miss Universe with Catalina Swimwear Brasil providing their bikinis. It seems that the swimwear brand did not get the memo that it’s supposed to design for a pageant stage and not Ipanema. MUO had to send them back for “more material”. With multiple scandals about exposed body parts that year i.e. Catalina’s commando crotch, Sheryl Lee’s see-through gown and then too skimpy competition swimwear, I wonder how many pills had Paula Shugart taken to make herself sleep through the nights of the pageant. LOL
I wonder if this photo still makes Osmel Sousa cringe.

The swimsuit competition has always been one of the reasons why countless feminist and moralist groups condemn beauty pageants as enterprises exploiting women and promoting stereotypes. Protests during 1972 and 2000 were forever etched in the history of Miss Universe. Due to this the swimsuit has also been the subject of countless pageant questions, the most recent of which were those picked by 2 memorable runner-ups:

Miss Australia 2009 Rachel Finch was asked by famous international model Valeria Mazza:
“Good evening Miss Australia. Tonight you were judged on how you look in a bathing suit. In some countries women are not allowed to wear swimsuits… so how does that make you feel?”

Rachel’s answer:

I believe wearing a swimsuit especially a part of a beauty pageant is a beautiful thing,… it gives every one of us a chance to show our figures and our tone bodies and what we have work hard for and I think our body is our beautiful part of the woman and we should definitely show them to the rest of the world.

Rachel looked frazzled by the question and somehow her answer made her appear apathetic to the plight of the women that Valeria mentioned in her question. She finished 2nd runner-up.

Miss Brazil 2012 Gabriela Markus picked beach volleyball Olympic gold medalist Kerri Walsh:
"Like you, I wear swimsuit when I compete. What would you say to people who believe that women wearing swimsuits in a public forum reduces them to sexual objects?"

Gabriela’s answer (in Portuguese but was translated to English):

"I believe that it's not just in the way that we dress that we show our true selves. We can show our character if we are wearing an evening gown or a bikini. The important thing is to show everyone the people that we are inside, in our hearts. Good night Las Vegas! Thank you!"

Gabriela, with her calm and laid-back demeanor gave an answer that neither addressed nor evaded the question. Anyway she looked happy with her 4th runner-up finish.

The swimsuit constantly evolves and styles become outdated only to return in a decade, updated and in fashion again. Belted hipster bikinis are now in vogue as they were in the 1960s. The same monokinis which debuted in the 70s got resurgence in popularity lately. Some women go even further and channel the 40s pin-up girls.
Katy Perry and Halle Berry certainly look great in vintage suits..

No question, the swimsuit made pageantry and the world exciting in general. Who knows where the swimsuit will take us in the future? The future holds many secrets and it’s up to us to know about them.

Thank you! Happy reading!

Note: Some of the insights here are my personal opinion.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

ALWAYS THE BRIDESMAID BUT NEVER THE BRIDE – The Curious Case of the United Kingdom in Miss Universe

Someone asked me why I love following beauty pageants, especially Miss Universe. I could’ve answered that it’s my hobby and just dropped the conversation, instead, I answered that a beauty pageant is one of the best ways to observe history. Pageants reflect society’s ever-changing perception of women and beauty. Through the years, we also saw how beauty pageants paved the way for the breakdown of racism. We see nations to rise and fall. We saw the rise and fall of communism. We saw nations change names, assimilate other territories and change governments. Later we saw the rise and fall of major media corporations and how the beauty pageant industry has asserted itself as a big business in terms of advertising, show business and fashion. As every disgruntled non-placer claims, indeed, the beauty pageant industry was also not spared by politics.

If one would analyze, several of the countries that excelled in Miss Universe were the major players in world history – USA, France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom. Of course we know that the United States has 8 Miss Universes, France has 1, Japan has 2, and Germany has 1. However, the United Kingdom has, so far in its successful participation rate, has … none? In this feature we will see how the English Rose has fared in Miss Universe.

The most successful non-winning country with nine top-five positions, the United Kingdom (including England, Scotland and Wales) has participated in Miss Universe since 1952.

Delegate: Aileen Chase/England (unplaced)
Winner: Armi Kuusela/Finland
A 4th runner-up finish in Miss World the previous year inspired Aileen Chase to compete in the first edition of Miss Universe. With the line-up of delegates more diverse than Miss World, the results were different. Armi Kuusela of Finland won the crown while Aileen went unplaced. It was noted that a disgruntled Miss Italy was quoted that the contest was rigged in favor of Armi to promote the Olympics that year in Helsinki, that Miss Hawaii was given the 1st runner-up position to entice the island to accept US statehood, and Miss Hong Kong finished 3rd runner-up to assure Asians that there was no prejudice against them. Of course they were just baseless claims. Hawaii joined the union much later (1959), Hong Kong would amass a total of 6 placements before being reintegrated into the Miss China Universe pageant, and no one could contest beautiful Armi’s victory whose heart was torn between accepting her crown and going back to Helsinki to be part of the welcoming committee to the athletes.

Delegate: Margaret Rowe/England
Winner: Hillevi Rombin/Sweden
In a period where beauty was determined by numbers, Margaret Rowe’s body measurements (37-24-37) were not within the English standard. It was later quoted that the Miss England judges, hoping to get their first placement, thought that the typical, gentle English beauty paled side by side with the girls from other nations and decided to elect Miss Rowe instead. Their risky choice was worth it as Margaret was not only the most popular in parade, but one of the semifinalists as well.

Iris Alice Kathleen Waller/England – 3rd runner-up
Winner - Carol Ann Laverne Morris/USA
It was a year of achievements as Iris Waller finished 3rd runner-up and gave England its first experience in the Miss Universe podium. Germany got its highest placement as Marina Orschel was 1st runner-up to Carol Morris, who made the USA the first ever country to have more than one titleholder that year.

Sonia Hamilton/England 2nd-runner up
Winner: Gladys Zender/Peru
Silencing the recurring outbursts of discrimination from Latina contestants, Peruana charmer Gladys Zender became the first Latina Miss Universe and the youngest in history. Sonia Hamilton likewise made sure that English beauty is well represented when she finished 3rd.

Pamela Anne Searle/England - 3rd runner-up
Winner: Akiko Kojima/Japan
Akiko Kojima’s victory brought Asian beauty center stage showing that Miss Universe recognizes the diversity of beauty. The English beauty was not far behind with Pamela finishing taking 3rd runner-up and Miss Photogenic honors.

Joan Ellinor Boardman/England - semifinalist
Winner: Linda Jeanne Bement/ USA
Joan kept the flame going for England by finishing as a semifinalist. It was interesting to note that her co-semifinalist and top 3 favorite as measured by Miami Herald’s “applause meter” Stella Marquez of Colombia later became the 1st Miss International.

Rosemarie Frankland/Wales - 1st runner-up
Arlette Dobson/England – 3rd runner-up
Susan Jones/ Scotland - semifinalist
Winner: Marlene Schmidt/Germany
1961 started the participation of other states/principalities of England, Wales and Scotland and it was their most successful year as all 3 entrants placed. A veteran of beauty contests in her hometown, Rosemarie tried her luck in Miss World and won. In contrast to the celebration of the English beauties’ success, Marlene’s victory was received in Germany with lukewarm response. She got little press coverage and the population in general was not impressed.

Special Note: Although England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have had separate representatives in other international pageants, Miss World did not allow this until the creation of separate Parliaments in the United Kingdom.

Kim Carlton/England – semifinalist
Winner: Norma Nolan/Argentina
Shown here in her national costume, Kim Carlton was the first delegate to win both the Miss Photogenic and Best in National Costume awards. This is another year of firsts as Jewish-Argentinian beauty Norma Nolan was crowned as the most beautiful woman in the universe. Lovely Evelyn Miott, who loves to dance the twist, did the previously impossible by becoming the first black semifinalist in the history of the pageant. Like the earlier years, no alterations of any kind were allowed on contestants’’ appearance, even corsets and spray-on hair dyes. Times have indeed changed and contestants nowadays not only use corsets and hair dyes to alter their appearance, they can also be natural born men made women through surgery and public documents.

Special Note: In 1963, Susan Pratt of England got hit by a car and was unable to compete in the finals. That’s one less competition for Ieda Maria Vargas of Brazil as she became her country’s 1st titleholder that year, and Korea’s Kim Myoung Ja who gave her country its first runner-up finish.

Brenda Blackler/England – 1st runner-up
Greece - Corinna Tsopei
England came very close to the crown again but it was Greek beauty Corrina Tsopei’s moment as she became her country’s first and only Miss Universe to date. Meanwhile, it was reported that Miss Scotland Doreen Swan walked out of the competition, only to be discovered that she accepted a marriage proposal from her boyfriend Watt Nicoll.

Janice Carol Whiteman/England – semifinalist
Winner: Margareta Arvidsson/Sweden
Janice Whiteman managed to get into the semifinals in the year that was one of the most competitive, as Sweden got its 2nd title; Thailand got its 2nd consecutive top 5 finish as 2nd runner-up after winning the previous year and Finland’s 2nd of its 5 consecutive top 5 finishes which ended in 1970.

Jennifer Lyn Lewis/England – 2nd runner-up
Denise Elizabeth Page/Wales – semifinalist
Winner: Sylvia Hitchcock/USA
For the first time in the pageant’s history, delegates were allowed to wear hair extensions. Padded bras were still not allowed. Busty Miss Scotland Lena McGarvie (38-24-36) was allegedly too shy to put on a bikini due to malfunctions especially in the bikini top. Well, at least she doesn’t need to use padding to win Miss Photogenic.

Jennifer Lowe Summers/England - semifinalist
Winner: Martha Vasconcellos/Brazil
Jennifer got into the semifinalist in the year that a black beauty’s presence in international pageants was more felt. Curacao’s Anne Marie Braafheid continued what Evelyn Miott started and finished 1st runner-up (a feat later to be completed by Jennifer Hosten of Grenada, who won as Miss World in 1970). Brazil joined the elite club of multiple titleholders with Martha’s victory.

Marilyn Ann Ward/England – semifinalist
Winner: Georgina Rizk/Lebanon
Despite her measurements (36-24-36), Marilyn was too modest and thought her chances were slim. I doubt she would say that again after she was called as a semifinalist. However, her measurements were not enough to propel her to the top 5 and it was Lebanese beauty Georgina Rizk who walked away with the title.

Jennifer McAdam/England – 2nd runner-up
Winner: Kerry Ann Wells/Australia
While the delegates were having the time of their lives inside, outside; 400 members of the Puerto Rican Socialist Party were protesting against the pageant, accusing it of exploiting women, and measuring them like cows. Well, the pageant went through as scheduled, and Kerry Ann Wells was elected as the most beautiful “cow” that night while the English “cow” Jenny finished in 5th place. LOL
Special note: During the 1973 edition, Miss Colombia allegedly quipped that the European contestants were “pretty but smelly”. Are the British delegates among them? We don’t know for sure, but seeing that they didn’t place makes me think twice.

Helen Elizabeth Morgan/Wales – 1st runner-up
Kathleen Ann Anders/England - semifinalist
Winner: Amparo Munoz/Spain
English beauties came on strong again but not strong enough to get the crown. Spanish stunner AMparo Munoz won the title but later resigned. Helen, as her first runner-up was not able to take over as she was busy fulfilling her duties as the new Miss World that same year. The position was not offered to the 2nd runner-up and Ms. Munoz is still officially a former Miss Universe.

Vicki Harris/England – semifinalist
Winner: Ann Marie Pohtamo/Finland
Inspired by her placement, Vicki later joined and placed 3rd in Miss World 1975. Two of her fellow delegates must’ve also felt otherwise and competed in Miss International where they got successful. Miss Yugoslavia became Miss International 1976 while Miss France became Miss International 1975. Others followed suit, some placed other did not. Ann validated Finland’s beauty powerhouse status by winning the title for the 2nd time.

Sian Adey-Jones/Wales – 2nd runner-up
Carol Jean Grant /Scotland – 3rd runner up
Pauline Davis/England – semifinalist
Winner: Rina Messinger/Israel
British enclave Hong Kong was a place where once again, all the English girls placed, with the sweet Israeli Rina Messinger ultimately winning the top prize. It was reported that some contestants, notable Miss Samoa and Miss Philippines protested to being obliged to attend parties given by sponsors of the pageant. Well, it seems Rina and the English girls don’t mind partying at all.

Sandra Bell/Scotland – 2nd runner-up
Winner: Janelle Comissiong/Trinidad and Tobago
Gossip mills revealed that one judge prefers the new queen to be pretty but not dumb. Incidentally, several delegates didn't make it to New York for Miss Universe Day, as allegedly mentioned by one chaperon. Five got lost with one failing to change planes in LA and reached Tokyo by mistake. It’s a good thing Sandra was intelligent enough to correctly switch planes and get there in time to compete, get 3rd place and be a part of history as Miss Universe crowns its first black queen.

Carolyn Seaward/England – 2nd runner-up
Lorraine Davidson/Scotland - semifinalist
Janet Beverly Hobson/Wales - semifinalist
Winner: Maritza Sayalero/Venezuela
Despite the picketing of feminists outside asking “why can’t a female truck driver be Miss Universe?”, the pageant went through as usual and the world saw the rise of Venezuela as Maritza Sayalero won their first title. Carolyn was one of those unfortunate well-wishers who fell into the hole when the stage collapsed that fateful night. Being a beauty queen is not all glamour and I’m pretty sure a female truck drive will also find it difficult to wear a sequined gown and crawl out of a hole.

Linda Gallagher/ Scotland – 1st runner-up
Winner: Shawn Weatherly/USA
This year yet another English beauty came very close to the crown only to lose it to her roommate. It was reported that Linda had to switch dresses when she saw Shawn’s spectacular beaded gown delivered in their room. Despite the switch, Shawn was unbeatable in the finals and enjoyed a comfortable lead from the rest. Linda has to settle for 2nd place.

Della Frances Dolan/England - semifinalist
Winner: Karen Dianne Baldwin/ Canada
Della managed to get into the semifinals but was not able to advance further, just like early frontrunner Odette Scrooby of South Africa who was given a surprisingly low score in the swimsuit. With one less beauty to compete with, Karen won Canada’s first title and the petite Patty Kerkos got Guam’s highest placement by finishing 1st runner-up.

Karen Moore/England – 4th runner-up
Winner: Lorraine Downes/New Zealand
During pageant night, 200 protesters from the Coalition of Women and Supporters (COWs) did not cause the pageant a hitch as Loraine Downes claimed the title for New Zealand. Karen Moore finished 5th but sadly, this is the last time that another English beauty will be called as a semifinalist.

From 1991 to present Miss Universe Great Britain selects the delegate to Miss Universe, to no avail as they were all unplaced. Somehow, 2nd runner-up from the 2009 national pageant Alize Lily Mounter competed in other pageants and was more successful, finishing top 7 in Miss World 2011 and top 15 in Miss International 2012.
It’s not that the magic died, but somehow it has weakened. Beauty pageants are no longer popular in the United Kingdom. Even Miss World is not shown live in mainstream TV stations anymore. What could be the reason? Was there a shift in the fickle attention of the English population?

Since the late 80s, London has become one of the fashion capitals of world and one major stopover of aspiring models from all over Europe. The modeling business became lucrative and the look that works in beauty pageants is not in sync with what the fashion industry demands. Throughout this process came the rise of the supermodel, a model with a superstar status who can sell a whole line, and who’s lifestyle can inspire a whole generation. Girls no longer dream of becoming beauty queens, they want to emulate supermodels, the way they dress, even their bodies with results in the rise of eating disorders.

So far England has produced two globally recognizable supermodels:

Naomi Campbell
Kate Moss

Recently Naomi and Kate led a model march as part of the closing ceremonies of the 2012 London Olympics. In a similar fashion, the host of the next Olympiad, Brazil, in its special presentation that night showcased their signature carnival with their own supermodel, Alessanda Ambrosio as main attraction.

Is the beauty queen’s time in the UK officially over or will it return to prominence in the future? No one knows for sure.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

UNPLACED – The Wallflowers of Miss Universe

“…I never surrendered and I think that is very important don’t surrender what you have and just go ahead and take hold of what you want..” – Cynthia Olavarria, Miss Universe 2005 1st Runner-up.

Despite the existence of other big pageants, Miss Universe is still the grandest and most exciting beauty pageant in the world. Since its inception in 1952, it has been the objective of every participating country to get its representative to place in the semifinals and get a chance to compete for the crown during the finals. International prestige, honor and worldwide recognition which could be a platform into a lucrative career are just several reasons why the world’s “Beauty Superbowl” is still relevant in many countries.

Many countries have been successful more than once in winning the crown, others just have to contend themselves with runner-ups. Still, some were able to perform good enough for a semifinal slot. Whether their placement is recent or far back in history, these countries have already proven that at least once, their delegate is “one of the most beautiful in the world”.

Not all countries are just as lucky. Whereas some of us pageant fans are busy griping about the last time our delegate placed or won, we forget that some countries are still dreaming, wishing and hoping for their first placement in Miss Universe.
Let’s get to know the countries that remain unplaced and yet are still actively competing. They are the wallflowers of Miss Universe:

Debut: 1956

This British territory is one of the few countries in the Caribbean that’s not an island and the only South American Nation with English as its national language. At one time enjoying one of the region’s highest literacy rates at 90%, this nation has never experienced success in pageantry, especially in Miss Universe. Since it debuted in 1956, it has never placed.
The only time that a Miss Universe delegate from Guyana was in the spotlight was in the 2012 edition when Ruqyyah Boyer slipped and fell during the evening gown preliminaries. The pageant pundits took notice of how the Guyana delegate gracefully got up and resumed her walk; with some immediately placing her in their predictions list, hoping somehow that she have the same fate like Miss Universe 1999 1st runner-up Miriam Quiambao who also slipped during the evening gown preliminaries but it was not the case for poor Ruqayyah. On finals night Guyana was not called as one of the top 16 semifinalists.
It is interesting to note that despite its continuing misfortune in Miss Universe, Guyana already experienced euphoria in its rival pageant, Miss World. Stunning Shakira Baksh placed 3rd in 1968 and is still considered by many as the most beautiful Miss World 2nd runner-up. Ms. Baksh was able to parlay her pageant success into a mainstream movie career marriage to Michael Caine, one of Britain’s most loved actors. With the renewed yearly participation of Guyana, there is hope that one day a goddess will rise, as stunning as Shakira and as resilient and elegant as Ruqayya.

Debut: 1963

A country made up of a group of islands in the Caribbean, The Bahamas were the site of Columbus' first landfall in the New World in 1492. Being surrounded by water, it does not have an army or an air force, but a full navy equipped to defend its shores. A top tourist attraction, in terms of GDP it is the 3rd richest country in the Americas, next to the United States and Canada. However, when it comes to beauty titles, especially Miss Universe, for all its enthusiastic participation since 1963 it has gotten nothing.
The year that Bahamas first felt hope that it will place was in the 1982 edition when the beautiful Ava Marilyn Burke became Miss Photogenic and was being predicted to get the first placement for the country. It turned out to be a false alarm. When it hosted the 2009 event, there was expectation everywhere that the host delegate, Kiara Sherman would advance to the top 15. She was prepared, and confident, but not as beautiful as Ava. It turned out that hosting the event will not be enough to guarantee a placement.

I don’t believe that Bahamian girls are not beautiful enough. Maybe they should reassess their selection process, and make bold adjustments that would entice better contestants. 2012’s Celeste Marshall is a good example of a very promising delegate and I wouldn’t mind if she placed, and if Bahamas gets contestants with the same or better beauty, determination and skills, they will get their placement very soon.

Debut: 1975

This beautiful island nation in the Indian Ocean has recently received acclaim as the World’s Best Beach at the World Travel Awards in January 2012. Mauritius has also one of the highest rates of returning tourism visitors in the world. It’s surprising that a country of acclaimed natural beauty has not received appreciation for the beauty of its women, especially in the biggest beauty pageant of all, the Miss Universe.
Inspired by her success in Miss World 1975 (top 10), Marielle Tse-Sik-Sun competed in the 1976 edition in Hong Kong. However, as the other countries in this list would realize, success in Miss World, won’t always mean success in Miss Universe. With many ethnicities coexisting with each other, it’s not hard to find a beautiful girl, however, training and preparation is key. They would have to be in tune with the current trends in Miss Universe pageantry and revamp their selection process or else go the way of the dodo.

Antigua and Barbuda
Debut: 1977

Antigua and Barbuda is a twin-island nation lying between the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The country is nicknamed "Land of 365 Beaches" due to the many pristine beaches surrounding the islands. However, its track record is Miss Universe has been so far, nil.
Beautiful singer Shermaine Jeremy first made waves in Miss World 2004 as Miss Talent and Top 15 semifinalist. Propelled by her achievement, she went to sunny Thailand to compete in the 2005 edition. Her ebony beauty and presentation skills impressed pageant experts and after the preliminaries, she was in many prediction lists (I love her gown by the way; it’s sexy and speaks about her and her home country). Her exclusion might be explained by the competitive batch of beauties that year; however, if they have to get a representative black beauty, in my opinion she would’ve been a better choice than her fellow Miss World alumna, Magdalene Walcott.

British Virgin Islands
Debut: 1977

This British overseas territory is located in the Caribbean to the east of Puerto Rico. It’s ironic that the official currency of the British Virgin Islands has been the US dollar since 1959, a currency also used by the United States Virgin Islands.
Since its debut, this haven for professional sailing enthusiasts has been sending below par delegates. I hope someone proves me wrong, but I haven’t seen a delegate from this country that has been seen as contender. 2010’s Josefina Nunez is better than her predecessors, but they seriously must raise their standards or change their approach. Some girls are beautiful but fear the entire pageant ritual. Seeing the proceedings and eventual result for 2013, in my opinion, casting calls to their most beautiful girls is worth a try. Or else be content with their girl finishing last. Delia Jon Baptiste finished last in Miss Universe 1994 (yes, those days they release the prelim standings days after the coronation night, I saw it myself on TV).

St. Lucia
Debut: 1977

St. Lucia is a sovereign island country in the eastern Caribbean Sea on the boundary with the Atlantic Ocean. Also known as the "Helen of the West Indies" for its natural beauty the island has been sending delegates to the Miss Universe which, so far has been ending up as clappers.
On a positive note, St. Lucia has already found some ground in Miss World. In the 2010 edition, the refreshing face of Aiasha Gustave was loved by the judges that she went as far as Top 7. With the current trend of Miss Universe choosing sweet, natural beauties, if Aisha chooses to compete she may have a chance, given the right support.

Cayman Islands
Debut: 1980

This British Overseas Territory located in the western Caribbean Sea is a major world offshore financial centre. No direct taxation is imposed on residents and Cayman Islands companies. Since 1980 it has been trying its luck in Miss Universe, but, so far with no success.
Maureen Theresa Lewis surprised everyone by entering the top 10 at Miss World’s 1982 edition. It’s also not a secret that Victoria’s Secret Angel Selita Ebanks calls this island country home. So far their best Miss Universe delegate, in my opinion who has given an overall presentation worthy of a semifinal slot is 2009’s Nicosia Lawson. This ebony beauty’s knockout body, sensuous catwalk and overall presentation got the interest of pageant experts who put her as the dark horse in their prediction list (sorry Lindsay fans her prelim pasarella was just weird). A semifinal finish in Miss Universe is not impossible for this country. If they produced a Miss Word semifinalist and a Victoria’s Secret Angel, pretty soon, a Miss Universe stunner, with the right direction, is not a distant reality.

Debut: 1987

Who doesn’t know Egypt, it’s glorious history, its colossal pyramids and it’s legendary ruler Cleopatra known not just for her intelligence but her beauty as well? Like their Arab counterparts, Egyptian women have a distinct beauty, a legacy of the many ethnicities which have come and gone when it was once a great empire.

Miss World 1954 Antigone Costanda is an example of such exquisite beauty. Merriam George represented Egyptian beauty by finishing top 8 during Miss Earth 2006. However, no Egyptian beauty has ever succeeded in entering the semifinals of Miss Universe. One noteworthy Miss Egypt, however, gave a commendable presentation in the 2009 edition. Pageant veteran Elham Wagdi has joined 3 major pageants (Miss Universe 2009, Miss International 2006 and Miss Earth 2005) and were unplaced in all. The weird coincidence is that the eventual winners from those editions were all Venezuelans (Fernandez, di Giacomo and Braun). In the throes of political reform, they haven’t sent a delegate in 2012, but, with such a great beauty tradition, we still cannot count them out.

Debut: 1991

This country in Southeastern Europe is bordered by several countries and since ancient times has been the crossroads of many civilizations. Their scholars claim that the number of archaeological sites is the third-largest in Europe after Italy and Greece. During its socialist republic days it has gained more acclaim as a sporting nation, notably in rhythmic gymnastics. As a new democracy, it started sending delegates to Miss Universe in 1991. It’s 2013 and they still haven’t sent a delegate who has entered the semifinals.
In 1995, they found some comfort when Evgenia Kalkandzhieva finished top 10 in Miss World. Although they are still to find their luck in Miss Universe, it’s good to note that there are two accomplished beauty queens who have Bulgarian heritage:
Just my suggestion, if Bulgaria is really serious in getting a Miss Universe placement, a more rigid screening and training process, and opening their selection to expats around the world may give them more competitive girls to choose from.

Debut: 1991

Also a former socialist republic and located at the intersection of Central and Southeastern Europe, bordering on the Black Sea, this gymnastics superpower produced sports icon Nadia Comaneci who was the first to get a perfect 10 score. However, their performance in Miss Universe has never been close to a perfect ten.
In the 2006 edition, Miss World judges favored Eastern European beauties and the beautiful Ioana Boitor finished 2nd to the delegate from Czech Republic. Personally, I think Ioana is by far superior to the winner and would’ve made a great queen as well. Beauties like Ioana are not scarce in this country and with the proper selection process and support, a Miss Universe semifinal finish is not far behind.

Debut: 1995

Zambia is a landlocked country in Southern Africa, where, approximately 87% of the population is Christian. The official language is English, which is used to conduct official business and is the medium of instruction in schools. Sending of delegates to Miss Universe since 1995 has been unsuccessful to this African country. No Zambian beauty has been a semifinalist.
Coming from a continent which has already produced 4 Miss Universes (Gardiner, McLean, Kwelagobe and Lopes), 3 Miss Worlds (Coelen, Kriel and Darego), and 1 Miss Earth (Omkakwe), a semifinalist (in any pageant) from Zambia is not impossible. Knowing she is well-supported gives a delegate an added boost of confidence and might make that difference from semifinalist to clapper. Although she was unplaced in all the Big 4 pageants (Miss World 2003, Miss International 2004, Miss Universe 2005 and Miss Earth 2005) she competed in, Cynthia Kanema’s determination and commitment to represent Zambian women is admirable and Is just what the next Zambia might need to perform better.

These countries still deserve respect, for their participation ensures the survival of Miss Universe. What is important is that their respective beauty headquarters learn from what did not work in the past, observe the countries which are currently performing well, and work to get the girl which would best represent them and get that semifinal slot, or if destiny permits, that crown. After all, winning beauty pageants is mostly hard work. Beauty could get you as far as an advantage, but from there, all would have to come from hard work.

If a wallflower acknowledges and fixes what makes her unattractive, eventually some guy would get up and ask her to dance.

Thank you for reading.