Nigerian beauty queens back on the catwalks

Two dozen long-legged beauties strode out at the weekend to put a smile back on the face of Nigeria’s pageant scene, four months after bloody violence wrecked their country’s bid to stage the Miss World.

Around the world the enduring images of last year’s debacle will be of pretty girls fleeing Nigeria to London as religious rioters burned down homes and murdered their neighbours in the street.

But seemingly nothing can dampen the enthusiasm of Nigerians for their hugely popular beauty parades, the most prominent of which is the “Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria Pageant”, which was held in Lagos on Saturday.

“Seeing these beauties in those gowns is exhilarating, it gives them an angelic touch. My emotion is really stirred,” said spectator Simon Ogbulafor, to the obvious annoyance of the girlfriend sitting by his side.

Some 500 guests thronged the luxury Eko Le Meridien hotel on the waterfront in Lagos’ upmarket Victoria Island business district, whooping and whistling as the 24 contestants sashayed through the swimsuit and evening gown sections.

Last year anger over the staging of Miss World during Ramadan in a country where around half the population is Muslim fuelled a religious riot in the northern city of Kaduna which left at least 220 people dead.

But at the competition to choose Nigeria’s entrant for this year’s Miss World, the only controversy was over the criteria for judging the contestants’ evident charms.

“It seems the show has been turned into an all tall girls affair. Last year the winner was tall and this time the same thing, it looks like the panel is obsessed with height,” noted guest Simon Ugoh.

The woman chosen as this year’s Most Beautiful Girl, 19-year-old Celia Bissong Ohumoto of Cross River State in Nigeria’s far southeast, certainly bears his theory out, coming in at 1,8 metres (six feet) tall.

Whether you prefer your beauties to be super-tall or more modestly proportioned, behind the debate is a shift in Nigerian perceptions of beauty driven, in part, by the success of the pageants and their queens.

The show’s organisers, Silverbird Productions, say that two years ago they decided to encourage girls with the tall, slender outlines seen on the catwalks of Paris or Milan, rather than the more curvaceous forms traditionally regarded as the height of

attraction in Africa.

Their reward was to see a previous Most Beautiful Girl, Agbani Darego, elected Miss World 2001.
Her reward was a string of top modelling contracts around the world, and the satisfaction of putting Africa on the beauty map. Her success has had a knock-on effect not only on the popularity of the pageants, but on the way Nigerian men and women perceive beauty. Pageant organisers say that where once some girls would run away from their conservative families to compete, now proud parents and relations bring their beauties to show them off at the qualifying

heats.

Last year’s Nigerian champion, Chinyeye Ochuba, made it into the last 10 of the re-located Miss World final, and there is genuine pride among Nigerians that their country’s daughters have received such acclaim. - Sapa-AFP

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