[Image from the NY Times]
By now, many of us have seen or read about Miss Pakistan World Natasha Paracha‘s CNN debacle – if you haven’t, you can watch the clip here. Paracha, who is a University of California-Berkeley graduate, caused an internet/media stir when she stated in the CNN interview, “The image of Pakistan has been threatened with these recent attacks and I feel now as Pakistanis we have to stand up and condone what has happened in the country of India and through these Mumbai attacks.” Yep, the word she used was condone, not condemn.
Before last week, I was not even aware that a Miss Pakistan World existed. Now, though, Miss Paracha seems more infamous for her on-air slip than famous for her beauty queen achievements. However, she did receive some positive media attention – the NY Times profiles her a few days after the interview, noting,
The Miss Pakistan pageant, now in its sixth year, is unique as these things go. None of this year’s 12 contestants, to start, reside in Pakistan, but hail instead from the United States, Canada and England. (The full title reflects that international flavor: Miss Pakistan World.) And the contestants do not compete for the crown in Lahore or Islamabad, but in Mississauga, Ontario. Pakistan, apparently, is not yet ready for a beauty pageant, although why that is depends on whom you ask.
According to Miss Pakistan World, reported the Times, the answer was absurdly simplistic – “It’s still a new country, and pageantry is a new concept there,” said Ms. Paracha, chic in a Nanette Lepore dress, sipping an espresso at the Blue Water Grill. “The entertainment industry is just developing.” Amna Buttar, a founder of the Asian-American Network Against Abuse of Human Rights, presented an answer that was much more in line with my opinion – “In Pakistan, we are trying to get basic rights for women: right to marry, right to divorce, equal opportunity for job and education, and issues like Miss Pakistan create problems for this movement…An average Pakistani young woman does not want to wear a bikini in public, and for her it is important to have equal opportunity and all focus should be on that, and not on a pageant where only the elite can participate.”
To me, beauty pageants seem an odd way to champion female empowerment, especially in Pakistan. In the United States, these contests proclaim to “[empower] young women to achieve their personal and professional goals, while providing a forum in which to express their opinions, talent and intelligence.” However, in order to be “pageant ready,” most of these women have to fulfill certain criteria, ultimately [arguably] exacerbating stereotypes more than challenging societal norms. In the case of Miss Pakistan World, the point may be “to show that Pakistani women are strong and… can definitely do a lot to represent the nation on a global sphere,” [as Paracha said on CNN] but how does the contest ultimately change the status of the average woman living in Pakistan? Does a Miss Pakistan [World] represent progress for women’s rights in the country or is it simply an extravagant waste of our time? [Left image of the pageant from the Pakistani Spectator]