“They did not see the real beauty, yet again.”
The fan-created meme was shared by Miss Georgia Lara Yan on her Instagram story shortly after Miss Philippines Catriona Gray was crowned as Miss Universe 2018.
In an interview weeks before the Miss Universe competition, Lara Yan also voiced: “After having seen photos of other contestants, I will tell you honestly, out of 88 contestants I only liked ten, the rest of them I could not even rank”.
I know casual fans of pageants often imagine that there’s a “dog eat dog” type of atmosphere behind the scenes of beauty pageants. They assume that every contestant is a saboteur looking for her chance to diss, destroy or minimize others.
And that is the public notion I wish we as women can help reject.
As a two-time Miss Georgia title holder myself (Miss Georgia 1995 runner up and Miss Georgia 1996), I have heard my fair share of cutting words and comments that struck below the belt from competitors. I’ve had my patent leather high heels magically disappear from my dressing room minutes before stepping on stage for the swimsuit part of the competition at Miss Georgia 1995. The agony was real!
Thankfully, any critique and negativity I’d encounter during my pageant days, I chalked it up to, “there is always going to be opposition,” and quickly glossed over it.
But now, I take Miss Georgia’s public affront much more seriously, as a woman, as a human and as a Georgian.
Miss Universe is an opportunity and a global platform for women to become a voice for a positive change in the world and in their own communities. For this reason, contestants are judged on much more than just their physical appearance (believe it or not). Winners are selected largely by who they are in the world.
Every nation stands on values that are the most defining and most important for them as a people. Women sent to participate in Miss Universe aren’t there just to represent themselves, but to represent their respective countries and embody values which their nation stands on.
For Georgia, those values are Generosity, Hospitality and Honor - even when it’s inconvenient, difficult, or the situation seems unfair.
As a collective, Georgians are relentless with their generosity; it’s in the fabric of our being. In Georgia, hospitality is valued more than any other quality, skill or a trait, surpassing courage and even reputation. Honor and respect of others is not just a custom in Georgia, it’s social currency. And for women of Georgia, grace, courage and inner class are what constitute true beauty.
Lara Yan (formally Larissa Petrosyan), this year’s Miss Universe representative from Georgia, is of Armenian descent. To me, her responsibility to bring forth the qualities and values of Georgian women on a global platform such as Miss Universe is even higher. Throwing shade and being dismissive of other contestants is a poor representation of Georgia.
Lara may have represented herself at Miss Universe, but she truly mis-represented Georgia.
Aside from patriotism or virtue, there is a deeper level of awareness we as women must create within ourselves and in the world around us.
While we fight for equality and work so hard to break gender barriers, female competitiveness and comparison is an ill-conceived war that keeps us in the battle longer.
Tearing each other down only keeps us marginalized and powerless as women. When we as women are busy fighting amongst ourselves, we can not see out, affect change in the world and claim the power that is ours. When we as women tear each other down, none of us win.
When we compete with each other, we are actually competing with ourselves. We look at other women and see a prettier, smarter, better version of ourselves. We don't see other women at all. It unnerves us to see in other women what we have squashed in ourselves, and we take the easy road of turning against them.
Only when we have long signed out of our own dreams and ambitions do we not wholeheartedly support other women in theirs. We criticize, attack and try to undercut other women in direct proportion of how harshly we treat ourselves, deny our own potential and judge our imperfections.
We can not claim our power from this place of unworthiness and fear.
We can only start truly seeing other women when we give ourselves permission to work on becoming the women we ourselves long to be. When we start respecting our own dreams, we have agency to support and celebrate other women who do, too.
If we want to change the culture to where women are not valued only by comparison, we need to be active participants of that change. There is nothing stronger and more beautiful than women who refuse to be set against each other. We have to show the world that thinking less of another woman next to us is not a compliment to any of us.
Whether it’s in beauty pageants or outside of them, a win for some of us is a win for all of us