VUNG TAU, VIETNAM
– Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and colors throughout the world. But when it comes to beauty pageants, Miss – as in the honorary title for a single woman – rules the roost.
The annual Mrs. World pageant, which ended in Vietnam on Nov. 22, seeks to break up the monotony, providing an extra ingredient in the dish of womanhood.
“Before I started this show, there was Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss ‘this’ and Miss ‘that.’ And I tell you what: They all missed the point,” said David Marmel, founder of the Mrs. America and Mrs. World pageants. “No one can juggle home, career, family and beauty apart from a married woman and we have to reward that. A married woman is the world’s greatest natural resource.”
In Vung Tau, a coastal province in southern Vietnam, a dozen Vietnamese were fussing with a long kite made of 76 flags of each title hopeful’s country. As they were struggling with the winds on the beach, women from East and West were trying to dazzle stage directors and judges.
The models and presenters included a policewoman from France, a 50-year-old grandmother of two from Ecuador, a pilot from the Dominican Republic and a Swedish singer from the Army of Lovers band.
Some countries were allowed two entries taken into account the republics. Ukraine has been represented by a TV anchor, Natalia Beltyukova, and a notary, Olena Mozolyeva, with the Crimea ribbon. Entries from Georgia and Italy had citizenship in those two nations. But both women had Ukrainian parents and looked unmistakably Slavic.
The most prominent Ukrainian at the show was singer-actress Nataliya Shmarenkova, known professionally as Kamaliya. Crowned Mrs. World 2008, she came to greet the next winner and sing “Phantom of the Opera” for the finals.
“They were asking me how to win, what my secret was. But I could not really share my experience because it’s against the rules,” Kamaliya said. “Husbands, judges and former pageant winners have to stay away from the girls so that there is no cheating.”
Strutting on stage for two weeks, six hours a day, the women had little time to relax. While swimsuits, evening dresses and national costume rehearsals made for 50 percent of the success, interviews with judges counted for another half.
They only had one chance to get it right. There were seven judges, including two former Mrs. America, two politicians from Russia and Vietnam, a linguist and writer from Vietnam, an ex-Mrs. Vietnam and a professional pageant organizer, also from Vietnam.
“Depending on their resume, I would ask how they raise their children or why they don’t have children for instance,” said a judge from Russia, Aleksei Kuznetsov, also an adviser in Russian parliament. “You have to switch off the chemistry as well as they are all very beautiful and pay attention to what they say.”
Not everyone, however, was getting it right. Some said they came to meet new friends, others wanted to get noticed by modeling agencies and sign television contracts.
One of the oldest contestants, Michaela De La Cour, 48, is from the Swedish pop band Army of Lovers. Humming one of their famous songs “Sexual Revolution,” she said her goal was to show that women older than 40 can still be gorgeous. “I was a school teacher of music in the past and wanted to show my students that everything is possible in life,” said De La Cour.
She also did not miss the chance to encourage women at the show to help her market her brand of jewelry in their countries in exchange for 30 percent of the profits.
As it goes in the company of women, each lady was shrouded with a story or a rumor. It was Mrs. Germany’s second go at the contest, because, as she explained, in Germany, national pageants for married women were held only once in two years.
Mrs. Georgia, married to an opposition member of parliament in Tbilisi, was poisoned but did not blame it on the food.
The Thai candidate kicked Mrs. Mauritius out of their hotel room at 2 a.m. to accommodate her husband and children instead. Mrs. Mauritius was crying in the corner until the organizers solved the conflict.
Mrs. Spain, afraid of the swine flu, wore a mask on stage during rehearsals.
Dessire Davison from the Ivory Coast, with famous model Naomi Campbell’s looks, was one of the favorites. With her silky orange evening gown, she put on a blonde braid over her dark hair, striking a resemblance with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.
Women gossiped that Mrs. Cote D’Ivoir and Mrs. New Zealand would win the title as one was a princess and the other had a rich husband. Neither did. To the surprise of those who followed the show from the start, it was a quiet Mrs. Russia, Victoria Radochinskaya, who took the top honor this year.
“I did not even prepare for the rehearsals that well, as I thought it was impossible to win after a Ukrainian queen last year,” Radochinskaya said. The blonde 31-year-old works in advertising in Rostov, has a four-year-old son and a businessman for a husband.
Kamaliya said she was pleasantly surprised as well. “I told Victoria on the eve of the contest that she is a stunner, but a cold one. I told her that she has to smile.”
Now Radochinskaya will have to smile for the rest of the year and not divorce her husband. Those are the rules of the pageant.
Had she competed before 1940s in Vietnam, she would have to cover her lips with her hand while smiling or paint her teeth black as a sign of beauty. It was believed that only savages, wild animals and the demons of the underworld had white teeth.
So, standards of beauty do change. But it seems that luck is on the side of Slavic women right now.
Staff writer Yuliya Popova can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org