Beauty queens turn activists at Miss Universe's National Costume Show

Fashion statements abounded at this event

14 May 2021 - 18:40 By Paula Andropoulos
Miss Universe Singapore Bernadette Belle Ong.
Miss Universe Singapore Bernadette Belle Ong.
Image: Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images

Historically, the national costume segment of the Miss Universe competition has encompassed a bizarre range of walking human floats and on the nose puns from the presenters — and this year's, which took place in the US on Thursday, was no exception.

However, perhaps because of the heightened social and political circumstances in which we — universally — find ourselves, some of the participating country's representative’s costumes made interesting and provocative statements, showing once again how fashion can operate as a conduit for protest and self-expression.

For instance, Miss Universe Singapore Bernadette Belle Ong wore a (relatively simple, by pageant standards) red-and-white caped ensemble, with the cape itself reading “Stop Asian Hate.”

Given the outbreak of targeted attacks on Asian individuals since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, this costume constituted a powerful reminder to support vulnerable Asian minorities and celebrate diversity, while also embodying a facet of Singaporean culture in terms of its colour palette, which mirrors that of the country's flag.

Likewise, Miss Universe Canada Nova Stevens donned the metallic livery of a futuristic superhero, in a bid to express her commitment to racial equality, and the “strength and resistance” such activism mandates.

Miss Universe Canada Nova Stevens.
Miss Universe Canada Nova Stevens.
Image: Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images
Miss Myanmar Thuzar Wint Lwin.
Miss Myanmar Thuzar Wint Lwin.
Image: Rodrigo Varela/Getty Images

Miss Universe Myanmar Thuzar Lwin didn't let the fact that her original national costume had got lost in transit stop her from making a statement. She took advantage of her walk down the runway to draw attention to the plight of her people, bearing a sign that read “Pray for Myanmar”.

Myanmar has been suffering under a military regime with genocidal violence plaguing minorities.  

All in all, we are really excited about this new generation of Miss Universe contenders, who are following the example of the reigning queen Zozibini Tunzi and her forbearers to use their voices for good.

As Miss Universe SA Natasha Joubert told the Sunday Times, both pageants and the  beauties who compete in them have evolved:  “We now have the opportunity to voice things that are important to us — and people listen.”

You can watch the full Miss Universe National Costume Show on YouTube.

 After being postponed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the 2020 Miss Universe pageant will take place at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida, on May 16 (2am to 5am on May 17, SA time). It'll be broadcast on ​1 Magic (DStv channel 103).


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