“Everybody has the right to be beautiful!” so starts the manifesto of the Miss Landmine pageant, started by Morten Traavik of Norway. According to the pageant site, the competition is intended to empower landmine victims and challenge traditional notions of beauty. The winner receives a high-tech prosthetic limb. Traavik has already organized a Miss Landmine pageant in Angola and was in the process of launching the event in Cambodia this month when the Cambodian government pulled its support and canceled the pageant.
The Mirror reports that other organizations, including the Cambodian Disabled People's Organization, declined to support the pageant after the Ministry of Social Affairs Veteran and Youth Rehabilitation expressed its displeasure with the pageant, citing the event could lead to misunderstandings about disabled people.
Not surprisingly, there have been varied reactions to the landmine pageant.
I have mixed feelings about the cattle call of beauty pageants, but do agree with the general idea behind this one: that the participants have a right to feel proud about themselves and their appearance, regardless of circumstance. Without condoning [the pageant], I think the cancellation shows how Khmer society is often leaning towards modern and foreign concepts, only to snap back to what [it] feels [is] more traditional and ’safe’.
CAAI News Media posts a reader's reaction, originally printed in a letter to the Phnom Penh Post editor. The reader questions whether or not the beauty pageant format is empowering:
As for beauty, whose concept of beauty is being promoted? I visited the Web site and found the women from different villages in halter tops and short dresses, which may or may not be the clothing that they would usually wear, but it seemed out of place. Are the organisers, while completely well-meaning, pushing a Western interpretation of “empowerment” where beauty and liberation is equated with being sexy and showing skin? I would have rather liked to see the women wearing something they chose, Western or traditional Khmer, modern or conservative, which made them feel their most beautiful.
At Details are Sketchy, there is news that Traavik has left Cambodia, but that he plans on moving forward with the pageant, via an online vote. Below is a photo of pageant contestant Miss Siem Reap from the pageant website.