11 July 2024

The most anticipated beauty pageant in the world, the Miss Universe Pageant started life as a model search promoting a swimsuit brand but is now regarded as an annual global event that culminates in the crowning of the delegate chosen by a select panel of judges as the most beautiful.

Like other fans of diverse nationalities, Thais pin their hopes on the country’s chosen representative to bring home the much-coveted crown. And the tension was running high on Sunday morning Thai time as Thai-Danish lovely Anntonia Porsild made it into the top three and then finished as first runner-up.

Miss Universe 2023’s first runner up Anntonia Porsild

It has been a long time since Thailand won the much-celebrated Miss Universe title. In 1988, Porntip Nakhirunkanok brought pride to the nation when she was crowned the fairest of beautiful ladies from across the globe. Earlier, in 1965, Apasara Hongsakula was also crowned the most beautiful woman in the universe.

Porntip Nakhirunkanok, Miss Thailand Universe, who becomes Miss Universe in 1988.

Celebrating women?

Over the years, the Miss Universe pageant has evolved in many ways. What was originally a model search promoting a swimsuit brand is now regarded as an annual global event, where women from around the world gather to put on a show that, the organizers claim, is a celebration of women from across the globe.

Yasmin Almonte, a Fine Arts professor from one of the leading universities in Asia, disagrees, arguing that the definition of beauty espoused by these contests is very superficial.

“How can we create certain beauty standards when beauty comes in all shapes, colours and sizes?” she asks. An acclaimed painter, she maintains that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder and is very subjective.”

Those sentiments are shared by people who question the relevance of beauty contests in today’s chaotic world.

Greater purpose

Back in 2000 when the Miss Universe pageant was held in Cyprus, protests were held outside the venue against the exploitation of women. Fittingly enough, the Miss Universe final question during that year tackled the issue: “Right now, there is a protest going on right outside here calling the Miss Universe pageant disrespectful of women. How would you convince them that they are wrong?” the host asked each of the five finalists.

The eventual winner, Lara Dutta from India, could not have given a better answer: “I think pageants like Miss Universe give we young women a platform to foray into the fields in which we want to forge ahead, be it entrepreneurship, armed forces, or politics. It gives us a platform to voice our choices and opinions, and makes us the strong and independent women that we are today.”

Confusing formula

So what would it take to win another Miss Universe crown for Thailand? The past two winners from the Kingdom appear to be a study in contrasts. Both extremely beautiful, Apasara was sweet and reserved while Porntip was confident and self-assured. The former spoke mostly in Thai and was a little shy; the latter was an engaging speaker who spoke excellent English.

“Thailand is now confused as to which winning formula to adopt. Khun Apasara and Khun Porntip are two very different women. So, which one is the winning template?” asks Jenn, a beauty pageant fanatic.

With the Nicaraguan contestant crowned on Sunday, Thais took to social media to question the standard. “Perhaps, the old belief of having fluent English is no longer a major requirement for the Miss Universe,” wrote one Thai commentator known for the  beauty queen’s feedback video on YouTube. On social media, that observation is also discussed.

Avid following

While not everyone is an avid beauty pageant fanatic, the frenzy surrounding the Miss Universe is felt by even those who are less interested. People like Khen, a young advertising and PR professional, couldn’t care less. “I don’t hate it. It’s just that I am not very into it like some of my friends. They are always on the lookout for candidates from other countries, particularly the Philippines and India and that’s something I do not understand. I guess we each have our own interests,” Khen explains.

Perhaps Thai pageant fans’ obsession to have their country bring home an international crown can be answered by Missosology.com., the leading beauty pageant website that covers and analyzes major beauty pageants around the world and keeps an annual global ranking of countries. Based on its latest rankings, the frontrunner among Asian countries is the Philippines, which is in 4th place globally. It has so far produced four winners and numerous runner-up placements.  India is also considered a powerhouse with three winners and several runner-up placements. Globally, Thailand is far behind in 20th place. Countries like Indonesia and Vietnam are slowly catching up.

The recently concluded 72 edition of the Miss Universe pageant held in El Salvador, however, had the Thai representative Anntonia very close to winning the crown and that could change the standing of Thai beauty queens on the world stage.

Moving on

While a first runner-up finish is certainly no mean feat and considered a great accomplishment, should Thais be disappointed at almost winning the coveted crown?

A former Miss Universe winner from Asia mentioned in one interview that “Winning should not be the be-all and end-all of the competition. Win or lose, candidates and pageant fans alike should all move on, as the Miss Universe is not just about winning but also very much about presenting empowered and beautiful women with ground-breaking stories and strong voices for the world to see and hear,” she said.

By Thai PBS World Feature Desk