miss new zealand
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Recently the Miss Universe New Zealand pageant was held in Wellington, and I wrote about it rather snarkily on the Wellingtonista. I got to talking to one of the judges, Jack Yan from Lucire at Hooch last week, where he was working the room as only a mayoral candidate would do. I thought that regardless of how I personally feel about “beauty” pageants, it would be interesting to hear an insider’s perspective. Jack has very kindly provided us with this piece. Enjoy!
Ria van Dyke was crowned Miss Universe New Zealand 2010 at the Duxton Hotel on June 5. It was a very Wellington event: classy, with a great, supportive crowd, and even a nice, fine June day to boot.
Wellington hasn’t had a Miss Universe New Zealand pageant for some 20 years, and in typical capital fashion, we were marvellous hosts. Not only did the Duxton come to the party, the Museum Hotel hosted the girls and two of the judges, and the Bolton Hotel helped with inner-city car parking. Farmers Lambton Quay played host to an afternoon where the contestants had a chance to work in the beauty department. Mish Mosh on Courtenay Place gave the contestants a chance to chill out the night before the interviews. Johnsonville Shopping Centre and Kilmarnock Home in Berhampore gave everyone extra opportunities to contact members of the public. Finally, the contestants literally stopped Parliament during one of their tours as they stepped in to the gallery.
This was the most cooperative, professional and flash Miss Universe New Zealand I’ve ever judged—and I now have four of these events under my belt. That’s not counting some of the work I’ve done for Miss Sweden over the years. It’s not inter-city rivalry talking. Somehow, Wellington just inspired more decency. There were no girls in cliques. Those who might have done what I call ‘the Auckland pageant circuit’ were far away from any folks who could have egged on any nastiness. Even the Wellington media—Matt McLean and Corinne Ambler from TVNZ, and Laura McQuillan from NZPA (We love Laura! She is our precious sparklepony! – Jo) —reported fairly without having any agenda. The radio stations—including the Breeze, X105 and Wellington-owned Groove 107·7 FM—interviewed various contestants.
Nightline attempted to critique the pageant on cultural diversity grounds, though the reality is that the national finals have no control over who is sent to us during the heats. I think having one Indian out of thirteen is roughly the proportion we have in New Zealand, while many contestants were melting pots that one would expect to see: Filipino, Chinese, Maori and Croat origins were present alongside the usual occidental ones of Portuguese, Spanish, French, Swiss and Anglo–Saxon.
Post-pageant, there were next to no sarky comments on the beauty blogs (We’re a bit slow – Jo). People liked Ria—and for once we didn’t have all the BS about the pageant being ‘rigged’ by its director. I know there are aspects of pageants that are anachronistic, stemming from the ideas of objectification. Or the media’s obsession with thin. They are both valid criticisms, each capable of occupying entire doctoral theses. However, I still maintain that any young woman can win, if she displays the sort of confidence Ria did, both on the final night and an earlier evening. Then, she had to be interviewed by the five-strong judging panel in an Apprentice-style setting inside the Museum Hotel. Thanks to the more intellectual approach of the judges, there are pluses to this—namely the confidence the contestants gain. I’ve seen some go from nervous post-teens to confident young women.
I’m barred from discussing the judging in detail—sadly, I don’t make the rules on this one—but I can say that Ria impressed us strongly in the private interview session, where yours truly is said to be the ‘Simon Cowell’ of the pageant. I take exception to this description, as I have had no Botox. This year, I was joined again by Evana Patterson, an Auckland-based model scout who was, in fact, born here. She’s been with the pageant world for some time, so being my mayoral opponent’s niece is a coincidence. Carl Manderson of Salute in Lower Hutt and Samantha Hannah, stylist, joined us. Certainly not least, pageant veteran Dina Janse von Rensburg flew in from Auckland to round off the quintet.
My own interest is being on a judging panel to find the smartest, most capable young woman to represent New Zealand. Each year, I believe we’ve succeeded. Some cynics might say that I should turn a blind eye to pageants if I agree that they are based around a narrow definition of attractiveness, but I’d rather be in there to get us the brains to go with the beauty—inner and outer—than base this competition on looks exclusively. In fact, one former Miss New Zealand told me that many of her overseas competitors were, indeed, bimboes. That’s not the way I want Aotearoa to be seen. And bimbo is not a label that could ever be levelled at Ria—or, for that matter, Miss Wellington Regan Hillyer, studying for her M.Arch. at Vic, or Nafeesa Moses, who already has her MA. Ria’s own master’s area is on women’s studies in sociology, so if anyone’s aware of the relevance (or irrelevance) of pageantry in the modern world, it’s her. Love or hate pageants, they’re here and they’re experiencing a renaissance. And I believe we found the best winner in years who will do well in representing New Zealand at Miss Universe in Las Vegas, Nevada, in August.