updated 19 Oct 2012, 12:26
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Wed, May 09, 2012
The New Paper
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Forget brains, we want the pan-Asian look
by Charlene Chua

Looking for women with brains didn't work last year.

So this year, the organiser of Miss Singapore World is employing a controversial new strategy - only pan-Asian looking women need apply.

A spokesman for Limelite Productions, which is organising the pageant, told The New Paper: "In the past, we sent girls who were really tall, really fair, had really dark hair, and who answered questions well. But the formula hasn't worked.

"So we are experimenting with different strategies, and this year, we have decided to send a representative who looks pan-Asian.

"Our definition of pan-Asian is women who have both Asian and Caucasian features.

"To achieve this, apart from picking girls with pan-Asian features, we will have their hair lightened, their skin tanned, and they will also wear contact lenses to lighten their eye colour for the rest of the competition."

Last year, the pageant organisers dumped their usual height and weight requirements and focused on finding intelligent women instead.

Potential contestants were posed tough questions like being asked for their views on infanticide in India and plastic surgery.

But it didn't work - Singapore's Miss World representative, polytechnic student May Hsu, did not place in the international finals in London last November.

So this year, the organisers changed tack.

Apart from getting women to sign up for the pageant, the organisers also took to the streets in search of pan-Asian looking beauties.

Said the pageant spokesman: "Give us a chance. We are really passionate about finding a girl who can win the international finals for us."

And they aren't worried about criticism that Singapore may be pandering to a specific notion of beauty.

"Since we are a multi-racial country, a pan-Asian looking girl would, ironically, be a representation of many of the races we have here," the spokesman added.

The contestants The New Paper spoke to said they weren't too concerned about the focus on pan-Asian looks.

Said Management Development Institute of Singapore student Jaime Lim, 18, who is Chinese: "There are pros and cons to having a pan-Asian face...but it all boils down to personality."

Fellow contestant Michelle Koh, also 18, said that she didn't think her chances were affected in the pageant just because she is Chinese.

Said the student who's waiting to enter a local university: "I think the emphasis is I carry myself and I think I speak well."

Nicole Olsen, 24, whose father is Swedish-Portuguese and mother is Chinese, said the focus on pan-Asian looks was "really interesting".

"I don't think looking pan-Asian will give us a better chance in the international finals because it's also about how you portray yourself on stage," said the student at Kaplan.

Her cousin is Miss Singapore Universe 2000 and former Nominated Member of Parliament Eunice Olsen.

Other pan-Asian contestants include Singapore Polytechnic student Sarah Noble, 17, and Republic Polytechnic student Farah Jaffar, 20.

Noble's father is British while Jaffar's is a mix of Malay, Indonesian and Dutch. Both girls' mothers are Malay-Chinese.

But both girls insisted that being pan-Asian would not give them an edge over other girls in the competition.

Said Noble: "Everyone has an equal chance...

"The downside is that Singaporeans may question why a pan-Asian has been chosen to represent an Asian country."

Added Jaffar: "I think the only thing that sets pan-Asian-looking women apart is that they have unique faces, and maybe some people prefer that."

While the contestants seem fine with the strategy, another beauty pageant organiser said it wouldn't take a similar approach.

When contacted, a spokesman for the Miss Universe Singapore pageant organiser, Derrol Stepenny Promotions, said: "It's sad that they're not encouraging those who look what's considered purely Chinese, Malay, Indian, etc to join.

"Singapore has so many beautiful and intelligent women who would do well internationally.

Singaporeans whom TNP spoke to had mixed reactions.

Those who supported the pan-Asian focus in the pageant felt that imposing a preference for looks was no different from say, giving a height requirement.

Different views

Said marketing executive Karen Lau, 27: "To say that it's discrimination is nonsense.

"I'm short and plump and will never see the light of day in a beauty pageant. But people don't see pageants as discriminating against short and fat people...

"The organisers are just defining what they think the international organisers will deem attractive, and there's nothing wrong with that."

But housewife Maggie Lim, 47, felt that the organisers were sending out a wrong message.

Said Madam Lim, who has two teenage daughters: "I don't want (my daughters) to think that they are any less pretty than someone who looks mixed.

"They have very Chinese features and as it is, are already growing up with many insecurities.

"I agree that looks are subjective, but I'm just worried that this may make them feel inferior to their friends who look pan-Asian."

This article was first published in The New Paper.


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