Miss Lebanon and Miss Arab USA - Beauty Pageant Culture
By: Caroline Umphlet / Arab America Contributing Writer
Beauty pageants are a popular hobby around the world for women to compete with their gorgeous looks, personality, and talent. The age range of competitors stretches all the way from months-old babies to mid-twenty young adults. Pageants are a great way for contestants to express femininity and promote charitable work. Specifically for events featuring Arab and Arab American women, they can connect with their heritage and cultures. Pageants do not only judge based on image and attire, but also community involvement and other abilities like public speaking and even sports. The social impact of beauty pageants on the Arab world is slowly picking at improving women’s rights and eliminating the harmful effects of conservatism.
Recently, the Miss Lebanon and Miss Arab USA pageants announced their winners.
Due to the pandemic and the economic state of the country, the Miss Lebanon competition has been on hold for three whole years. It is safe to say the fans missed this event. In 2022, it has finally been able to take place, with great success. They held it in the capital, Beirut. They announced the 17 participants to the public before the ceremony. This year was only the second time that the producers have decided to do this.
Miss Yasmina Zaytoun was crowned the winner of this year’s Miss Lebanon on July 24th. From Kfarchouba in Lebanon, Yasmina is 20 years old and currently studying journalism. She is already pursuing her career goals and has a TV presenter certification from Al Jazeera Media Institute in Qatar. As a part of her new duties as Miss Lebanon, Yasmina is expected to represent her home country at the Miss Universe and Miss World competitions of 2022, if the dates allow.
Miss Arab USA
The Miss Arab USA competition is held for Arab American women and is organized and produced by the Arab American Organization (AAO). Similar to our very own Arab America, the goal is to project and promote a positive image of Arabs. This pageant, while a fun event for young women of Arab descent, also allows them to develop personal skills like leadership and public speaking. Additionally, it is a large fundraising event for the community.
On July 23rd, the Miss Arab USA pageant crowned Marwa Lahlou for first place. They held the 2022 event in Chandler, Arizona. Marwa is of Moroccan descent and represented Connecticut. She moved to the US when she was eleven years old and did not know English at the time. Despite leaving Morocco, she has prioritized staying in touch with her rich culture while in the US. She knows every Arabic dialect, how to draw traditional Henna, how to belly dance, dabke, and more!
As much support as these beauty pageants generate, they also receive significant criticism.
Some argue that beauty pageants unnecessarily value women’s bodies, which should be protected and covered. The cultural disapproval of beauty pageants is stronger among the more conservative and older generation. The social norm does not allow nor approve of such competitions.
A number of pageants, not all, include a bikini contest portion, where judges specifically comment on and rank the contestant’s figures. Such revealing clothes are frowned upon in the Arab society and seen as immoral and unrespectable because of religious beliefs, both in Christianity and Islam. They write off beauty pageants as a whole for assuming they only value looks.
While that may seem like the objective, it is not the reality. As aforementioned, pageants also credit points to contestants based on certain talents and skills. Additionally, the countering opinion insists that every person should have the choice to follow certain religious beliefs or not, and therefore cover their bodies or not.
Glamorizing Western Lifestyle
The contestants have faced serious backlash and severe persecution like death threats and physical harm just for leading a more “Western” lifestyle. Some women have had to take extreme measures like leaving their country to ensure their own safety.
In 2018, Miss Saudi Arabia decided to drop out of the Miss Arab World Pageant in response to all the hate she received. They claimed she was, “misrepresenting her conservative Muslim country by participating in a beauty contest.”
Although Western culture clearly has its downsides, the acceptance of women’s autonomy in their personal choices is indeed admirable.
Overall, fighting for women rights and equality in the form of beauty pageants may seem unrealistic and counterintuitive. Nonetheless, Arab women continue to exhibit their elegance, skills, and natural empathy through these pageants to contribute to improving the image of all Arabs. The appreciation of women’s talent and beauty is a timeless treasure that hopefully will continue to highlight their equality and compassion to the rest of the world.
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