Aspire to Inspire – Beauty with a Purpose!

Aspire to Inspire – Beauty with a Purpose!

Growing up, I was a very shy girl who would wet myself when pressured to go on stage or stand in front of a large crowd, yet I loved beauty pageants.

Pageants helped me grow as an individual and shaped me into the woman am today – confident, outspoken, articulate, with great public speaking skills and well read on contemporary issues within and outside the borders of my home country – Namibia. That’s what the platform does – it empowers women to become the best versions of themselves.

Beauty pageants allowed me to dream. I wanted to be a Princess Diana or a Sofia I, but when I got to understand everything a lot better, I saw that it was an opportunity to grow as an individual – a platform of empowerment. But what really attracted me is that every pageant has an opening statement and Q and A round and that is what first caught my attention.

I was part of the Spelling Bee competition for three consecutive years. I loved anything and everything competitive and so the Q and A segment was my adrenalin. I also loved how women embrace themselves and how beautiful they are. Back then I thought only pageant queens could wear heels, make up and glamourous dresses.

I wasn’t confident enough to enter a pageant until I turned 18, and that was after watching literally every pageant I ever had access to. My hunger to be on stage grew immensely with every competition I viewed. When I finally became an entrant, I was sure that I was born to be a model. I fell in love with the thinking behind pageant mandates and what they strive for – that is because I really feel they align with my character as an individual.

Before going into beauty pageants on a more regular basis I had tried lots of different things to boost my confidence.

I tried almost every extra-curricular activity I could think of – debate group, choir, chess club and more. It turned out that I was the best netball player in Khomas region by the age of 11, and as my skills grew, I was chosen to play for the Afro Cats premier team in the Khomas Netball League at 17. I was thriving! I was at my peak – juggling between netball, pageants and pursuing my degree. Then I had a sport- related knee injury that left me on crutches for six months. It was at that time that I had to choose between the two things I loved most. I could focus on continuing with netball or go full time into beauty pageants. Naturally beauty pageants won because of that love affair that started when I was 8 years old.

Today I am an international beauty pageant queen with over five years’ experience in the industry.

I was very sad and upset when I saw this article, because pageantry isn’t all about glitz and glam, and just “parading about on stage”. It’s an actual job.

When you become queen, you have responsibilities. The moment you join a pageant you are required to be informed about and have access to contemporary issues that affect today’s society. Pageantry is an education in disguise.

We build bonds, we become sisters and we learn from each other. It’s not just a group of 80 women competing for a crown, it’s a group of women who want to make a difference in their societies.

Today I am not afraid to stand in front of a crowd and advocate for what’s right.

Pageantry empowered me and gave me courage to take up space and cement myself in society. The most important thing pageants have taught me is to be a leader.  This is something 8-year-old Jessica was lacking, not because I didn’t want to take up the reigns of leadership, but because of how society boxes women to believe they can’t.

No longer are we solely focused on beauty. If you dive deep and witness the process of how it is done, and how every queen prepares for a particular pageant, it’s a lot more than just looking beautiful and “parading the stage.” It’s about how you believe in yourself, how you feel about yourself and the opinions that you carry.

It’s about your WHY and the difference you want to make in your community with the advocacy you bring forth to the Miss Universe (MU) platform. It’s about your personality and the way you carry your ideology.

We in the pageant industry are being subjected to unfair prejudice because of the perception people have about the industry and the beauty standards that have long faded. Every pageant has a mandate – Miss Supranational Namibia talks about inspirational and aspirational women, whereas Miss Charm advocates for education, culture and tourism.

Most of all, we are a very inclusive industry because we have evolved over the years.

We are breaking through the stereotypes, people from the LGBTQI+ community who identify as women can now take part in pageants. Today, we are strong, empowered women trying to achieve a childhood dream with a different approach as we erase the stereotypes. I am a leading example, as a Bachelor of Communication graduate and full-time employee at the Namibia Media Trust, where we advocate for freedom of expression, access to information and professional media standards.

I will continue echoing my truth by insisting that we [beauty pageant contestants] have a purpose. We are role models to young girls and we advocate for the empowerment of women.

I am an ambassador for change that carries my project, #HearUs campaign, where I help the hearing and visually impaired community develop themselves to their fullest potential. I raise that Namibian flag high at every pageant I compete in with pride, just like any other beauty pageant queen.

We (beauty pageant contestants) contribute to the GDP of our countries as we promote the culture, heritage and tourist attractions during our introduction videos, bio’s and most importantly when we “parade the stage” in our national costume.

Our lives don’t revolve around pageantry. We are so much more: we are lawyers, doctors, journalists, engineers etc. Women are multi-faceted. We are not all the same and we shouldn’t be boxed into a corner because of what we choose to do or how we choose to do it. We are ambitious, intelligent women from all walks of life with a passion for pageantry.

Pageant stereotypes continue to exist and are transmitted through media, and through social, educational and recreational socialisation, which promotes pageant prejudice and discrimination. I argue that watching one show, and studying pageants overnight, does not critically engage the purpose of beauty pageants, which could help in developing affirmative action-oriented perspectives.

I believe the narrative of an international pageant (or any other pageant) is to create a global connection between countries across the world. I hope to shadow whatever misconceptions and stereotypes people have on beauty pageants. We can knock on doors and we can get them to open, especially those male-dominated spaces.

Pageant queens have a great impact of change in today’s society.

The calibre of women that start campaigns such as the #HeforShe campaign – which advocates against gender-based violence (GBV) – along many other brilliant advocacies that give society hope, are taken up by the United Nations to help these queens make a difference.

One thing about pageantry is that it exposes every contestant to the platforms they can use to make a difference. Not winning the title or the crown doesn’t take away from achieving their goal to make a difference in society. The platform elevates the ability of these women to stand strong and continue their fight to make the world a better place.

About The Author

Mundië Jessica Uiras

Mundië Jessica Uiras is a communications and marketing strategist and a dedicated digital rights advocate. She is an UNLEASH Global SDG Talent, raising awareness of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the need for accelerated action. She is also a fellow of the Africa School of Internet Governance.