KATHMANDU, Sept 5: The stage in Nepal Academy Hall, Kamaladi, is full of pretty participants. As they and the audience wait expectantly for the name of the title winner of Miss Little Idol 2012, one of the hosts says in his attempt to build up anticipation and excitement, “Will it be contestant number 10? Or will it be…....?”
One little girl takes two steps forward, her excitement palpable, as she gasps happily and holds both her hands to her face. The host continues and after half a minute announces the name of another contestant. The little girl quickly walks back to her position and she is soon lost from sight in the flurry of activity that takes place onstage.
Welcome to the world of mini beauty pageants where happiness and disappointments in a public arena are learnt very young. Little Olive Hoover from the 2006 film ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ is brought to the mind. All of our young contestants are enthusiastic and hopeful as she is. They want to shine, too.
Sumi Gamal, 11, was chosen to represent her school, Mandala International School, in the Little Lady Talent Show 2012. She says, “My Vice Principal informed me. I thought it would be good to participate and show my talents.”
On July 3, she was crowned Little Lady 2012. “I didn’t expect to win the title. I would’ve been satisfied with just being selected for the Top 10. However, unexpected as it was, I was very happy. My friends congratulated me in school and I felt good,” she recollects. The seventh grader says her favorite moment in the entire competition was the rehearsals for the Best Dress round.
Another contestant, Eva Pradhan, made it to the Top 10 of the same pageant. The 11-year-old from Rosebud School thinks it was probably a small mistake that cost her. She says, “I was probably overconfident and answered without thinking.”
One of the lessons she has learnt is not to give in to her shyness. Laughing, she also shares, “My mother says I’ve become more disciplined since I entered the competition.”
The numbers of pageants catering to little girls are many and varied: Miss Little Newa, Miss Little Idol, Little Lady Talent Show, and many more. The organizers believe that they are making platforms available to girls to show their talents.
Hema Manandhar, Chairman of Nepalese Fashion Home, says, “Miss Little Newa is a community-based program. Our main objective is to ensure that children learn Newar language and culture. We also focus on the importance of confidence boosting and personality development.”
Manandhar is emphatic as she says, “We’re doing this for tomorrow. Because we’ve seen that many children don’t know their cultural language as they are supposed to. So if we preserve our culture today, it’ll be useful tomorrow. So more than anything else, our pageant is propagating the importance of learning about your culture and taking it forward.”
But the truth is that the beauty pageants they participate in focus more on their walk and their introduction speech than on anything else. When we cheer the little beauties, we can’t help but notice their bright makeup, princess-like clothes and the catwalk they try so hard to perfect.
It is easy to place arguments here and say that pageants require these things. However, what is more important is to remember that these are just little girls. Tone down the makeup and the walk.
Our little ladies are no doubt talented, but the organizers have to be careful that the girls do not end up being prepped for their walk and grooming more than their presence of mind.
With the mushrooming of these pageants, the organizers are feeling the heat from the competition. Sampurna Tuladhar, Director of Membership Growth Commission, Kathmandu Jaycees, says, “We gave away cash prizes to the winners this year.” This is due to the competition in the market.
Little Lady Talent Show is the first pageant in Nepal. Organized for the first time in 1988, it is even older than Miss Nepal, which started in 1994.
Tuladhar says, “It’s totally a cultural talent show and we don’t prioritize beauty here. Our focus is on talent and individual development of the participants. We have 20 days of training and I think that’s sufficient, as children learn and pick up things faster. We don’t encourage competitive spirit. We place more importance on the participants’ learning. We give trainings on public speaking. The choreographer does the rest.”
Asked if he has seen the participants down and out after they fail to win the crown, he says, “We’ve seen children hurt but never anything very serious.”
Manandhar says, “Of course, the children got hurt. Some who came to the Top Five were sad they didn’t win the title. It’s natural and there’s nothing we can do about it except tell them that they did well to be chosen for Top Five, too.”
She has a different view on such competitions. “I believe competition is good for the kids. This is a competitive world and the quicker they learn about it, the better for them. So if this was a competitive experience for them, I’m sure they’ve learnt from it. We did counseling before the event so that they understood that losing was okay. I personally think that though winning is sweet, it’s important to get a taste of failure too. We can’t shield them forever.”
According to Tuladhar, there are three categories of participants; Ones who are brought to represent their schools, others who come of their own accord, and those whose parents think their daughters will do well. While the difference is not very remarkable in them, he did notice that those representing their schools were often more outgoing and talented.
Evelyn Moktan, 27, student and a freelance journalist, opines, “This is a competitive era, so my personal view is that such pageants are good. I guess girls can harness their talents and boost their personality. However, parents need to be vigilant all the time, as all pageants aren’t as good as we think. Just a suggestion: Make your little princess shine but say no to exploitation!"
Also, if it is good for little girls to have a ‘platform’ to perform and show their talents, how come little boys are being shortchanged?