This beauty pageant has drawn out the ugly Singaporean, and we don’t mean the contestants.
With that now famous photo of 16 of the finalists of the Miss Singapore Beauty Pageant having inspired the most brutal online savaging since Ris Low went boomz in 2009, you might think the contestants would need therapy before ever stepping out of their homes again.
The Pride met three of them last week, and they’re astonishingly fine – after getting over the initial shock, the subsequent sadness and eventually, disappointment, of course.
Nur Amelina, 21, was one of them, and she is aware she did not look good in the photo.
“People said my forehead is too big, my legs are full of scars and I’m too flat-chested,” said the Republic Polytechnic student. “They said I should not have taken part in the pageant, but I feel that I’m beautiful because of my scars – they make me who I am.”
As a way of dealing with criticisms, Amelina has kept screenshots of all the online barbs that have been directed at her.
“It’s my way of making control of matters,” she explained. She admitted to being very upset, but insisted she has got over the comments.
“I cannot control what people say but I can control my reaction to what they say,” she said sagely.
Katherine See is 26 but some comments included those suggesting she wasn’t of legal age and asking if her mother knew she was taking part in the pageant.
“I joined the pageant hoping that it would boost my confidence and courage, so when the comments came, I felt very hurt,” said the freelance marketer. “Like many of the other contestants, I stepped out of my comfort zone, so I did hope that the comments could have been more supportive instead of being so negative.”
The comments about Christina Cai, who is just 18, were quite the opposite of those for Katherine.
“Some commented if I was really single, and that I look like a mother of two,” said the dance student cheerfully. Someone even suggested she should wear leopard prints, which was a comparison to Ris Low, the Miss Singapore World 2009 who was often criticised for her bad English. Christina’s response? She actually did a spoof of Ris Low for our benefit, before saying, “Sorry, I’m Christina Cai, not Ris Low!”
So there you go – the girls are fine.
I have to admit – I giggled a little when I saw the photo, not because I was laughing at the girls but because I was wondering what the pageant organiser was thinking, exposing their contestants when they were hardly ready for any photo op.
“The entire pageant is a journey where the contestants are groomed for the final night,” a spokesman for ERM Singapore Marketing told The Pride. “We have to start them off with a smaller stage, and groom them along the way to final night where they will be the finished product of this pageant.”
Adeline Yap, 33, who is assisting in the pageant, also defended the organiser’s decision to put the girls out there so early. The winner of Miss Singapore Globe Intercontinental, Miss Singapore Friendship International and Miss Singapore Chinatown – pageants organised by ERM Singapore Marketing – said this year’s contestants were all fresh faces who had never taken part in such contests.
“Because of that, they will need some time to develop into beauty queens. They still have a long runway before the pageant catwalk,” she said. “So give them a chance to get there.”
So it was on their way there that the first brickbats were cast.
One early commenter, Facebook user Andri Kiff, shared the photo on his timeline. In his post, which went viral, he asked if the judges were chipmunks, why there were no other races apart from Chinese, and said he has seen prettier girls on the MRT. He also said that the contestants looked like aliens, insects, and “neighbour maid”. He ended that post with a plea not to let other countries laugh at us and added that if the contestants were the most beautiful girls in Singapore, he’d be going to Pink Dot 2018, though it wasn’t clear what he meant by that last point.
In a way, it’s hard to blame anyone for making such comments. For the very reason it is a beauty contest, the audience at large – and that includes the millions of online experts on physical beauty – expects its participants to be beautiful. So to have exposed the participants to the public without preparing them was not something I had expected a pageant organiser to do.
But were the contestants that bad-looking?
Ordinarily, these contestants would probably look fine on their own social media platforms, with or without filters. I have no doubt their selfies would garner a decent number of “likes” on Facebook and Instagram. But the moment they were placed on a stage that said beauty contest, things started to turn nasty.
That’s not to say I condone any of the mean-spirited comments levelled at the participants. Granted, a beauty contest, or beauty pageant, is a spectacle of entertainment. Like a circus with clowns. But these contestants aren’t clowns for us to laugh at. It would perhaps be a lot kinder if we asked ourselves if we are too quick to be brutally critical at the slightest opportunity. Sure, we may giggle a little, but does our need for mirth have to be at the expense of someone who has done absolutely nothing to deserve such merciless vitriol?
In laws pertaining to defamation, fair comment is a legitimate defence when expressing an opinion about a matter of a public nature. But can we claim our comments to be fair when they are so mean and spiteful?
Andri Kiff, the perpetrator of the early comments, insisted his post – which was taken down by Facebook – was meant to be funny.
“I wasn’t being mean. I just shoot my mouth off,” he told the Pride. But would he hold off if he knew his comments were hurtful?
“When you want to be a public figure, you have to accept both good and bad comments,” he told the Pride. “If you feel offended, don’t join any competition,” he added.
Perhaps the contestants can take comfort that netizens like Andri may actually only be trying to liven up a dull day with comments that they think are funny.
But for netizens like Andri, consider this: Would you make such a post or comment if your sister, daughter or girlfriend were in that photo? And how would you feel if you were in that photo?
We have been brought up to understand the premium placed on physical beauty from the day we heard the Snow White fairytale. And as we ask, who’s the fairest of them all, we should, perhaps, remember that the person asking that question while looking into the mirror was an evil queen.
Be the fairest of them all. Be fair. Look in the mirror. And into your heart before you begin to type the first word in a comment that could shatter the heart of a poor young woman whose only crime is to aspire to become a beauty queen.
The contestants who spoke to The Pride understand that comments will continue to pour in on social media, including, of course, negative ones. Their hope is that these criticisms won’t be as mean as those they have had to face so far. Christina had this to say: “When you make the post, you may not feel anything. But please try and remember that we have feelings.”