The only real problem I have with Miss Namibia is the use of the word ‘Namibia’ in its name.
The pageant has been under scrutiny during the past two weeks, after the outgoing Miss Namibia, Selma Kamanya, published a media statement in which she accused the Miss Namibia organisation of a number of abuses.
These included emotional abuse towards the winner and other contestants, not paying out full prize money as promised, and expecting the holder of the title to take part in Miss Universe while essentially having to use her own money to cover preparation expenses.
Miss Namibia Director Connie Maritz issued her own statement, denying the allegations, and saying that Miss Namibia was essentially a charity organisation, with a tight budget and no time for ‘poor little rich girl’ tantrums.
Incidentally, one of the things that never ceases to amaze me about my country is when members of the white elite that has run things in parts of the private sector since nineteen-voetsek accuse other people of being privileged and entitled. I suppose ‘it takes one to know one’, as the old English saying goes.
On one level, this speaks to the way many organisations in Namibia work. They were set up in pre-Independence days to cater for privileged amateurs who wanted to ‘do good’ and didn’t mind ‘working for love’.
Times have changed, however, and now these industries find themselves filled with qualified professionals from disadvantaged backgrounds, who, as one would expect, want to be paid for what they’re good at. This is true in sports and theatre and parts of the NGO world, and apparently too, in the ‘beauty industry’.
But another problem is the nature of that beauty industry itself. I confess to coming at this from a certain perspective, the feminist critique of this industry.
I’ve read a lot about how the beauty pageant industry is inherently problematic.
By promising to give young women a glamorous lifestyle because, first and foremost, of how they look, pageants give young girls unrealistic expectations of what is important in life. By promoting narrow and Eurocentric standards of ‘beauty’, they contribute to poor self-image among young black women, and plus-size women, among others.
I’ve had to modify my critique a bit. The pageants have, to be fair, increasingly emphasised fitness and ambition and not just ‘looking good in a bikini’, and most of their ardent viewers seem to be women, not men.
I certainly would not be in favour banning Miss Namibia, Miss Palm Beach, Miss Genocide Reparations (yes, that is a real thing) and all the rest. Feminism should allow women the right to choose, including the choice to be beauty queens.
What I do have a problem with is the idea many expressed on social media that Miss Namibia is somehow an ‘ambassador’, and that the pageant should be ‘brought into public ownership’.
There is no mention of ‘Miss Namibia’ in the Constitution, and rightly so. There are laws that govern the appointment of police chiefs and university vice-chancellors, but no laws that govern how Miss Namibia is selected, and I, for one, want it to remain that way.
Let beauty pageants be an industry like any other. Let’s make sure that corruption or mismanagement or abuse in that industry is investigated if it ever alleged, just like in an industrial corporation or a bank.
Let’s stop that pretending that the woman chosen as the most gorgeous by Connie Maritz and company is any special representative of Namibia. Which is why I say, take away the title ‘Namibia’. If a rival group of models and designers and event organisers want to host a rival pageant, let’s let them do so.
Let’s not spend any public money, even sponsorships, for an industry capital-intensive enough in some parts of the world to attract even Donald Trump’s investment at one time.
Let all Namibian pageants compete as to who gets to send contestants to Miss World, Miss Universe, Miss Solar System (okay, I did make that one up), and let the one that gives its contestant the best look, support system and backup, win.
I’m not as mean as I might sound. I do hope that a beautiful woman puts Namibia on the map. But if she could also be one of our women judges, humanitarians, surgeons or artists, rather than first and foremost a beauty queen, so much the better.
Hugh Ellis is considering entering Mr and Miss NUST 2019 – not really – and works at the University as a lecturer in the Department of Communication. The views expressed here are personal views. Contact him on Twitter: @ellis_hugh