An African Miss World? Hold your breath!By LEE MWITI | Monday, November 1 2010 at 18:43
Let’s face it. No black African woman is going to win the Miss World Finals beauty pageant outright any time soon. The facts—if we may call them that—fly in the face of the widely-held view that it is just a matter of time.
It is a contrarian view given that Afro-enthusiasts have been loudly harping the fact that Botswana’s Emma Wareus placed second, and more significantly, that Nigeria’s Agbani Darego took home the title in 2001. However, a cursory look at their frames suggests that they were one-offs.
Three reasons inform this assertion.
First, a look at most of the contestants in the African franchises suggests many are of the recent affluence associated with the emerging middle class and that is prevalent in many countries on the continent.
The winner of the 2010 edition, American Alexandria Mills, was a microcosm of what founder Eric Morley had in mind when he dreamed up the competition—a bag of bones. But despite the rather strict qualifications in place, most African contestants could barely balance on the catwalks in their home countries, badly weighed down by flabby outlines.
And this may not be about to change. A conference last month in the South African commercial capital of Johannesburg concluded that Africans were growing fatter. Yes, fatter. This may have been limited to the middle class but that is exactly the problem—that the African has also grown lazier, inviting lifestyle diseases that were a preserve of the West.
"In the past, we used to exercise without knowing it," the Associated Press quoted South African Health minister Aaron Motsoaledi as saying."You would walk a long distance to school. You would walk a long distance to work," Motsoaledi, 52, recalled of his childhood. "But now, I'm an African whose child is dropped at the gate of the school in a car, then picked up at the end of the day and put in front of the TV."
Secondly, the competition has been biased against the typical African woman since its inception. A bit of history is in order here. The contest originally begun as a bikini competition in 1951-- already ruling out the rather ample women of tribes such as the Luo (Kenya), Zulu (southern Africa), Yoruba or Asante (west Africa) out.
The rotund shapes sported by these women have never been swimsuit-wear material, despite the adoption of some Western habits such as the gym and which have over successive generations watered down the gene for portliness.
It is safe to say that the African woman has never really been in with a shout in the competition.
Lastly, the definition of beauty. The jury is still out over trailblazers—some would say the unconventional—such as Alek Wek and Kenya’s Ajuma Nasenyana. The former has been called many things, not least of all downright ugly.
The use of such models—cleverly called “exotic” has stoked more controversy than sold covers, with critics claiming their deployment on international runways is more a political message than a fashion statement.
While the story of some weather-beaten white cameraman discovering a gem from far –flung tribes such as the Turkana of Kenya, the Herero of Namibia or the Afar of Ethiopia always makes for good reading, it is in many Western views a case of not seeing the emperor’s nakedness.
This is the controversy that has raged around the award of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiabo.
“If China is to advance in harmony with other countries and become a key partner in upholding the values of the world community, it must grant freedom of expression to all its citizens,” Thorbjorn Jagland, the chair of the Nobel Committee penned in the New York Times.
But which “world” was he referring to? The West, and its values.
Given that the judging parameters are Western, for now we can either be content with the borderline prizes such as “Beauty with a purpose’’ won by Kenya's Natasha Metto for her work with jiggers—that scourge of African children—or come up with our own competitions such as the Bobaraba— a national dance craze popular in Cote d’Ivoire.
It translates to “Big Bottom” in the local Djoula language.
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