In recent Bellevue happenings, the Miss Chinese Seattle Pageant delivered an important lesson about beauty: It's not about what's on the outside, it turns out. It's more about the ability to project a list of qualities like confidence, regality, punctuality, and determination, along with other valued traits, all of them blended up and oozing together. The prior evening, during interview sessions before a panel of judges, the contestants spoke in sentences ranging from the deft to the circular, revealed personalities from the bubbly to the enameled, and described an assortment of hobbies: conducting Bible quizzes, following nail-art fashions, picking up litter, meeting new friends, and promoting world peace. For some, the past has been a succession of dreams coming true, while others have lived very difficult lives and recited the details with astonishing serenity.
Trending onstage the night of the ceremony, prom-inspired evening dresses contained fluffy blends of chiffon and tulle, ice-cream pastels, mermaid skirts, and strapless bodices caked with sparkling spangles. For one round, the women wore glittering cheongsams, the traditional Chinese gown with raglan sleeves, mandarin collar, and slit skirt. During the bathing-suit competition, contestants joyously flung their sarongs away and glide-walked across the shiny stage in only floral-print bikinis. Not all of us consider this activity to be an unfathomably humiliating objectification of women: "It's a great way to show physical fitness, and that's something to be proud of," explained one contestant. Shimmering embroidery, white satin sashes, and chandelier earrings brought added dazzle to many ensembles. And hair was either swept up or left loose and long, with the curls tumbling, just a-tumbling.
The talent round was especially thrilling when Ka Man Lee, overwhelmed with feeling, dropped to her knees while singing the anguished Les Misérables ballad "I Dreamed a Dream." (Soon after, she was crowned Miss Chinese Seattle.) It's hard not to relish the living shit out of these potent emotional displays. Keith Lovegrove's great book Pageant: The Beauty Contest explores similar moments, what with all the winners' shrieks and wooziness and joyful tears, but the unhappiness creeps in. During the 1953 Miss World competition, when Miss Egypt discovered she'd lost to Miss France, she "collapsed on the stage, writhed about in frustration, and lost consciousness."
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