It's a sign of the times that next weekend's Miss Universe New Zealand will be held in Levin, at the Horowhenua Events Centre, after struggling to attract a sufficient number of contestants. Beauty pageants don't enjoy the same cultural approval as they used to (although we shouldn't get too smug - pageants have merely been replaced by new forms of dumbarsery, like New Zealand's Next Top Model).
Your Weekend, the Dom Post's supplementary magazine, featured a fab article about the declining fortunes of Miss Universe New Zealand. I just have to share some quotes.
First is this from Val Lott, organiser of the 2009 pageant:
"There's always going to be beautiful girls - and they are always going to want to do pageants. If you don't offer them something to do, something constructive like this, where they can learn that beauty can be put to great purpose and be combined with the art of working..."
Val didn't finish this sentence, to my bitter disappointment. I wanted to hear more of her vision of social unrest that might ensue without pageants - I was imagining hordes of disgruntled sash-wearing lovelies roaming the streets and starting fights. Val did add this story of one contestant, though:
"I had a girl who was pumping gas at a pump station - she's now an accountant".
I suspect this woman also did an accounting degree; but let's not split hairs.
Interestingly, a 1998 quote from Lorraine Downes, NZ's only Miss Universe winner, is included:
"Now I see beauty competitions as outdated an inapproprieate in terms of how they view and judge women - and I would never encourage my daughter to enter one."
Also quoted was Joe Brown, a previous owner of the Miss Universe New Zealand franchise, who saw its fortunes decline. He complained that a group of "feminist sort of females" within TVNZ agitated against the pageant. Is it just me, or does that sound a bit Scooby Doo - "I would've got away with it if it hadn't been for those pesky feminists!"?