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Miss American University in Bulgaria – Yay or Nay?

3 Apr

I have always found it hard to take a position when it comes to the controversies in beauty pageants. Feminism defines such events as highly disrespectful and shallow, as ways to objectify women and show them primarily as sexual objects. On the other side, there are the people who believe that beauty is an important quality that deserves attention, that participation in such contests is a chance for women to express themselves and have fun. I guess both opinions are equally valid, but it is not my job to judge; rather, I would like to show another point of view.

In my university, there is this annual contest called Miss AUBG Beauty Pageant. It has been its fourth year in a roll and for the short time it has existed, it initiated a lot of controversy and discussions among students and faculty. Every year there is a lot of critique going on about the contest and some considerable negativism has been expressed towards it. As much as it is fun to read and watch what the opponents have to say about it, it also strikes me that nobody bothers to flip the coin and see its other side.

Miss AUBG – The Highlights is the video I made for the event 🙂

I am not writing a post in defense of the beauty pageant, I want to be clear on that. What I aim to learn, is why people are so negative about it and what do the organizers and participants have to say about it.

Recently, I read an article by the Hofstede Centre, which left me some food for thought. It basically examined the Bulgarian culture through a 5-D Model. According to one of the dimensions, Bulgarians tend to perceive the world as a hierarchy where everyone has a special place and a specific role in life that has to fulfill. In this culture women are usually defined as housewives, mothers, and pretty “objects.” As sad as it is, this claim explains the outrage caused by Miss AUBG. In our university, there is a younger society that lives by the American standards and perceptions, which are gaining more and more popularity among Eastern-European countries. In the mecca of women’s emancipation, it is hard to believe that females are considered as objects. Supposedly. I would like to point out that the motherland of consumerism and some of the most controversial beauty contests is exactly the U.S. (Little Miss Beauty Pageant). Yet, student and faculty wonder why should such beauty pageants take place in AUBG too.

I met with the President of Miss AUBG, Sevelina Koleva, to talk about the contest and see what her view point is because I thought that after all the criticism, the people involved in the event also deserve the right to state their opinion.

“I realize that there will always be people, who are against the beauty pageant. However, I think I’m doing something good. I believe Miss AUBG should be part of the university as other initiations like More Honors and Olympics. It should become a tradition.”

Sevelina also appealed to students and faculty to express not only their negative thoughts, but also to give positive feedback on what they would or wouldn’t like to see at the event. However, when I asked her whether she thinks that women in beauty pageants are shown as sexual objects, she couldn’t say more but that the participants themselves choose the way they want to be presented. “It takes quite a lot of efforts to become Miss AUBG,” comments Sevelina. “Last week we rehearsed for 3 to 5 hours a day, which is quite exhausting.”

Anastasiya Sidneva (left) and Mikael Corbin (right)

Anastasiya Sidneva (left) and Mikael Corbin (right)

“I participated because I wanted to try something I have never done before,” said Mikael Corbin, Miss AUBG 2013 3rd place. “I wanted to challenge myself because I thought it would push me to being something that I’m not. But I was proven wrong.”

Mikael at the Talent round.

Mikael at the Talent round.

“I couldn’t make my mind for a long time,” comments Malika Kabdenova, Miss AUBG 2013, 2nd place. “At first I didn’t want to participate because of other people’s opinions but previous participants in the contest assured me that it’s actually a lot of fun and I should give it a try.”

Malika Kabdenova

Malika Kabdenova

“Miss AUBG gave me the chance to find a lot of new friends and experience something quite unusual,” said Anastasiya Sidneva, winner in Miss AUBG 2013. “My friends and family are very proud of me and it was a lot of fun!”

Anastasiya Sidneva

Anastasiya Sidneva

Between two extremes it is not easy to find where the truth lies. It is a question of ethics and culture whether Miss AUBG has place in the university but the good thing we can take out of it, is that it does make us think on very important issues nowadays. Consumerism, objectification of women, sexual assaults and violence towards them are the illness of nowadays’ society that is worth paying attention to.

Two of my professors also made amazingly vivid comments on the beauty pageant. You can check them in the links below:

Judging Miss AUBG or Not? by Nancy Bartley

How Feminism Missed the Balkans, Part 2 by Melody Gilbert

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6 Responses to “Miss American University in Bulgaria – Yay or Nay?”

  1. Life-Changing Books April 3, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

    I totally like the video! Great post!

  2. RadinaRoussev April 3, 2013 at 10:58 pm #

    I like that you are trying to be objective and present the other side of the story as well.To be honest, I dislike beauty pageants for many reasons however, I do respect the initiative. Everyone is allowed to have their own interests and if it is beauty pageants- then let it be.

    Regarding the posts of your/our professors in a way I agree but i wouldn’t be as harsh. Although beauty pageants in the US are”pushed aside”,one of the most popular TV shows right now is “Toddlers and Tiaras” which is not only a beauty pageant but a beauty pageant for children in the ages of 2-7 / 8. While it is wrong to objectify women in a culture like the Bulgarian one, is it right to objectify girls? it is right to produce “honey- boo boo”s of all sorts ? In this “mecca of women’s emancipation” as you said, is it right for emancipated women to use their children as means of personal fulfillment (just because they can not ‘objectify’ themselves good enough) ? To tan them and pluck their hair multiple times a day while putting them on all sorts of different diets and regimes?

    Just a though.

    P.S- Great blog and great job!

  3. evgeniyakoseva April 4, 2013 at 9:45 am #

    Ahhhh… Miss AUBG drama =D

  4. ann April 10, 2013 at 7:20 am #

    Nice article, but you are quite lacking a point to your argument, are you for or against the contest? although you do mention that you try to express the other side of the coin as opposed to the professors’ points of view, your concluding idea is that this contests served as a good tool to spur the discussions on the important topics such as sexual assaults and violence. Correct me if I am wrong, but I could not find any other positive conclusions to the topic.

    • mireladineva April 10, 2013 at 2:39 pm #

      Hi Ann!
      Thank you for your response 🙂 My job in this article was to be objective and not take side, after all that’s what journalism is. If I state a personal opinion, that would influence the response of the readers and I don’t want that. What I wanted was to suggest another point of view because by far, we saw only critiques, and very vivid ones.
      I’m not against beauty pageants, as long as they are executed in a more contained way (not in a night club for example) and I think the organizators of Miss AUBG could take the negative critiques in consideration. On the other hand, it’s a student club and the whole idea of such student organizations is to gather people with similar interests. If they find beauty pageants fun and valuable, then why not?
      The thing that I’m against is that people judge the pageant as an example of what the Bulgarian culture is, even though it’s been 2 years in a roll when no Bulgarians participated. Moreover, my American professors say that Miss AUBG is just an outrageous contest. However, it’s in the US where they have national contests like Toddlers and Tiaras, which is frankly disgusting. I don’t think the problem with pageants is solely here, but I do believe that people could try to be more liberal.

  5. Melody Gilbert April 17, 2013 at 8:39 am #

    Good for you for staying objective in your post, Mirela! One quick comment about the comments above: I agree that the “Toddlers and Tiaras” show is gross, but that doesn’t take place in a university setting. Just sayin.

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