Then what’s with the swimsuit competition?
“Woah. What am I doing here?”
That was the first thing Naomi Colford thought when she walked into a room full of beautiful and accomplished young women competing for the Miss World Canada beauty pageant crown.
Turns out, the 19-year-old nursing student from Sydney, N.S., was in the right place.
Colford won the competition on July 27 at the Toronto Centre for the Arts and became the first Nova Scotian to wear the crown since the pageant started in 1957.
“I can’t even put into words how amazing that made me feel,” she said. “Dreams do come true.”
Then again, some people have questioned whether winning a beauty pageant is a good dream for a girl to have or a bad one.
It’s time to shift the focus of the beauty pageant away from beauty, says women’s and gender studies professor Rachel Hurst. (Chris Echlin)
“I feel conflicted about it,” said Rachel Hurst, co-ordinator of the women’s and gender studies program at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S.
On the one hand, she said, beauty pageants like Miss World Canada can be a real stepping stone for young women who want to get involved with charities or kickstart careers as actors or models.
On the other hand, she said, the fact that contestants are at least partly judged based on their looks is a problem.
It isn’t fair to “reduce the value of women and girls to their appearance,” Hurst said, which is what beauty pageants have been known for.
Beauty pageants have been around for decades. In this photo from 1962, the Miss World contestants pose in their swimwear. (Kent Gavin/Keystone/Getty Images)
But pageants aren’t what they used to be, Colford said.
“To some degree, it helps to be photogenic and take a nice picture,” she said, but “you can’t just rely on external beauty” to win.
The contestants had to raise money for charity, volunteer in the community and write an essay about an important cause — Colford’s passion is to help more people get access to healthy, cheap food — in order to qualify.
It’s more about “who you are and what you stand for then what you look like,” she said.
Alyssa Beasley, centre, takes part in the swimsuit challenge during Miss America 2018. That challenge was dropped in 2019. (Donald Kravitz/Getty Images)
Although some pageants — such as Miss America in the U.S. — have scrapped the swimsuit challenge (where the contestants walk the runway in bikinis) in recent years, this pageant still has one.
The point is not to rate a contestant’s body, but to look at “how confident she is, her runway skills, her presence,” said Michelle Weswaldi, executive director of Miss World Canada.
Contestants also need to do a fitness test, and that score is added to the swimsuit score, Weswaldi said.
Colford said preparing for the fitness test, which took place at a CrossFit gym this year, gives contestants “that extra push to make yourself be the healthiest version of you that you can.”
The first of 56 contestants listed on Miss World Canada’s finalists page for 2019. (missworldcanada.net)
While there are no restrictions related to body type listed on the Miss World Canada website, Hurst found it discouraging that almost all of the contestants share a “pretty similar” body shape and size.
Also, the website states that transgender women (who were born with male body parts), married women and mothers are not allowed to compete.
All of this suggests that the beauty pageant is open to a “very specific kind of young woman,” Hurst said.
If you look at the top 20 contestants, she said, “you will see a very diverse group.”
‘Are you ready?’ is what Miss World Canada 2018 Hanna Begovic, centre left, said to the 2019 winner, Naomi Colford, centre right, before she put the crown on Colford’s head. (@Darrenleesuperstar/MWC Organization)
They’re also all “super inspiring” women, Colford said.
She said she plans to make them proud by spending her time as Miss World Canada doing more volunteer work and looking for ways to “make a difference in Canada.”
Colford also needs to start preparing to represent the country at the Miss World beauty pageant in England in November.