Beauty on parade
Pageants are booming in The Bahamas
Beauty pageants are the Olympics of feminine attractiveness and poise. There are scads of them held in The Bahamas every year, and they have become an enduring part of island culture. They’re also big business.
Many young women, teens and even little girls dream of wearing sparkling crowns, gorgeous gowns and stately sashes. Even before The Bahamas hosted the Miss Universe Pageant in 2010, beauty pageants had exploded, promoting everything from the benefits of higher education to Christianity.
Many pageants aren’t always about svelte young beauties. They include, for example, Ms Full Figured Bahamas, Miss Bahamas Professional (formerly Miss Toastmasters) and Miss Gospel Bahamas–a pageant that promotes community service with a queen who will be “an ambassador for Christ.”
Organizers say there is more to pageants than the glitz and glamour one sees in the lavish production of crowning night. Contestants undergo months of training and preparation.
From interview preparation and on-stage presentation to lessons on hair and makeup application, experts say it takes strength, preparation and determination to be at the top of your game for the duration of any pageant.
“We spend eight weeks in training with our local girls, covering everything from health and fitness to skin care, pursuing purpose and embracing Bahamian culture,” says Michelle Malcolm, president of the Miss Bahamas Organization, the franchise holder of the two most prestigious pageants, Miss Universe and Miss World.
“It’s a complete programme. It’s not just a pageant. At the end of the day, no matter who wins the Miss Bahamas pageant, if they all were open to what they received they literally are all winners. Hopefully, they leave the programme as better people, groomed with tools they can use throughout their life.”
Benefits and duties
Beauty contests boost contestants’ self-esteem and confidence, say pageant organizers. “I always tell my girls you have to walk out of this experience better and not bitter,” says Malcolm. “These girls really are better people at the end of the day.”
What you put into the programme is what you’re going to get out of it, reaffirms Gaynell Rolle, president of the Miss Bahamas Beauty Organization, franchise holder of 14 international pageants for children, teens and adults, including Miss Earth, Miss International and Miss Progress.
“If you design the programme to cater to the development of their femininity in a positive way, then that’s what you are going to get,” says Rolle.
Aside from their personal development, pageant winners receive a number of prizes including scholarships, cash, clothes and jewellery. There are responsibilities that come along with the title. Once crowned, a beauty queen has duties to execute whether it be charity work or carrying out her platform (the cause she chose to champion during her reign). During their year-long reign, beauty queens are expected to make public appearances at various events, be a spokesperson for the organization and generally be a positive role model for other young women.
When Braneka Bassett won the Miss Bahamas crown in 2010, she walked away with a $50,000 wardrobe courtesy of Kerzner International, awarded by CEO and managing director George Markantonis. She also received $1,000 in cash along with other prizes.
Rolle’s Little Miss Bahamas winner receives a prize of $2,000. Teen queens receive a two-year scholarship to The College of The Bahamas, while her adult Miss pageant winners receive a four-year scholarship to Sojourner-Douglass College, among other prizes.
Organizers say it’s not always the most physically beautiful contestants who walk away with the prizes. Judges look for intelligent, articulate and charismatic women.
“You need to be a people’s person. I look for someone with humility,” says Rolle. “We could make up the outside. We can get the contact lenses. We can get the dermatologist to reform your skin, but if you are not a beautiful person from within, no matter how much we decorate the outside, the inside is [not] going to shine, and you’re just not going to be a good queen.”
That’s not to say that beauty isn’t important. “I always tell my judges it’s a beauty competition. Our product is beauty,” says Malcolm. Still it’s not enough to be “just a pretty face… . She should have a great personality, be easy to work with and obviously in great physical shape,” she adds. “She needs to be someone who is comfortable in her own skin–who knows who she is and where she is going.
Counting the cost
To offset the costs associated with pageants–wardrobe, shoes, jewellery, hair and make-up–many contestants need sponsors. At the Little Miss level, the “sponsors” are usually the parents.
Expenses add up quickly, and Malcolm advises contestants against spending more than $5,000. “It’s not necessary,” she says. “My pageant provides a lot of things like hair stylist, make-up artist, shoes and the dress for the judges interview.”
Contestants in her Miss Universe/Miss World pageant need only provide their own evening gown, church attire and an outfit for the obligatory visit to Government House for a visit with the Governor General. About 95 per cent of the contestants are able to find sponsors to cover the $2,000 entry fee and other expenses associated with Malcolm’s Miss Bahamas pageant.
The real expense kicks in when it’s time to take the reigning queen abroad to compete in international pageants. “Anytime we send one girl off, the minimum we spend is $3,000 per contestant,” says Rolle, who crowns 14 queens a year. Most go on to compete in international pageants.
“If we get the kind of support we need, I think that The Bahamas could easily become what they call in the industry ‘a powerhouse’ country,” says Malcolm. “Countries like Venezuela are the ultimate powerhouse country. It’s more of an oddity when their girls do not place, but that’s not by accident. They have a very well-run system that is heavily funded.”
Malcolm said getting the current Miss Bahamas ready to compete in Miss Universe and Miss World pageants was no easy feat. Preparing a Miss Bahamas for the international pageants costs thousands.
Malcolm believes it was money well spent. “When Braneka made the top 20 in Miss World, one billion people around the world heard them say ‘Miss Bahamas,’” says Malcolm. “Pageantry and tourism go hand in hand. She is an embodiment of her entire nation. So wherever she goes when she wears that sash, that’s an advertisement for The Bahamas.”
From its inception in the 1960s Miss Bahamas pageants have always been big, glamorous events featuring some of society’s elite as contestants and judges.
The first Miss Bahamas, Brenda Major, won the crown in 1961. Her reign didn’t last long, though. Major resigned, and first runner-up Leonora Rodgers took over the title. Rodgers went on to win the Miss Pan American of Tourism pageant later that year.
Two years later, The Bahamas dispatched its first beauty queen, Sandra Young, to compete in the Miss Universe pageant held in Miami Beach.
Not long after, another beauty contest debuted. Miss Jaycee Bahamas was launched in 1966. Its first winner, Dorothy Cooper, became the first Bahamian woman to compete in Miss World. Later, the Miss Commonwealth Bahamas organizers would send their queens to compete in that international pageant.
Although The Bahamas has yet to take the crown at one of the big four pageants (Miss Universe, Miss World, Miss Earth and Miss International), it has nevertheless achieved a number of accomplishments.
Miss Bahamas 1980 Linda Smith won the Miss Amity Award at the 1981 Miss Universe Pageant. Her successor, Miss Bahamas 1981 Ava Burke, captured the title of Miss Photogenic the following year. Until last year (2010) Burke was the only Bahamian woman to have competed in both Miss World and Miss Universe, as different pageant organizers held those franchises.
Another notable accomplishment was Miss Commonwealth Bahamas Jody Weech edging her way into the top 10 at the 1992 Miss World pageant. It was another 18 years before another Bahamian woman, Braneka Bassett, made it to the finals.
Miss Bahamas 2000 Nakera Simms won the Miss Congeniality Award at Miss Universe 2001. Miss Bahamas 2010 Braneka Bassett made the top 20 at Miss World, while first-runner-up in the 2010 Miss Bahamas pageant, Anastagia Pierre, came second at the Miss Intercontinental Pageant.
Little Miss Bahamas, Adria Albury, captured the title of World’s Mini Miss last year (2010), and Miss Pre-Teen Bahamas, Rikendra King, also won titles at her international pageant in 2010.
Beauty on parade
Pageants are booming in The Bahamas
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