The selection of Anchilee Scott-Kemmis as Miss Universe Thailand 2021 on Sunday propelled the issue of what constitutes ideal beauty into the forefront of debate.
While some netizens labeled the new beauty queen as “plus size”, “big” or “plump,” Anchilee’s who’s a model would accept none of that.
“Here I am, representing each and everyone of you who ever felt excluded, judged or hurt because you don’t fit into the standard. I’m here today to be your voice and our young girls celebrating individuality, uniqueness and you. I see you. I hear you and I’m here for you,” the 22-year-old Thai-Australian Anchilee said during the preliminary round of the competition a week ago last Friday.
There were more elaborations afterward. Local media including Thai PBS quoted her as saying: “No one really wants to be called plus-sized. I think we should just be called models; you don’t need to add the curve, plus, or the sample size. It causes too much segregation and divides when it doesn’t have to.”
Suddenly, with the selection of this year’s Miss Universe Thailand, the standard of beauty (queen) has been shaken to the core. The hour-glass body shape is no longer a must and many were charmed by the 22-year-old ‘real-size beauty’ and intelligence.
The time is long overdue for the narrow notion of beauty to be challenged and this writer hopes Anchilee will continue to fight for a changing mindset on the notion of female’s beauty and beyond. (Please note that during the Renaissance, plump women were considered ideally beautiful.)
Some supporters even pin their hope on Anchilee’s unconventional look and advocacy for real-size beauty as an asset and a boost for her candidacy for the Miss Universe 2021 Competition in Israel this December. This hope was further buoyed by a message on social media posted by the Israeli Embassy in Bangkok on Wednesday that Israel is the first nation to ban the employment of underweight models for advertising, “in order to avoid an appropriate standard of beauty for women and children.”
Weight and size aside, Thai society is known for its unfair preference for women with fair skins – beauty creams promising fairer and pinky faces and skins for users are very popular. Thai women with tan complexion are still generally regarded as less attractive than women with light skin complexion. Chinese and half-Western girls also trump more indigenous faces.
In Thailand, it’s not just the realm of female beauty that’s still under hegemonic discourses.
LGBT community is still struggling to break the yoke of binary gender classification with legal marriage registration and rights are still elusive. This despite gradual progress being made including the two main opposition political parties now visibly and publicly discussing the issue of LGBTI rights. The opposition Pheu Thai Party may be late in joining but on Thursday it gave space to a LGBT right activist to join the party and take to the stage during its general assembly in Khon Kaen province to speak.
More elusive are the notion of patriotism and Thainess still tied to the Victorian-era notion of unquestioning loyalty to the nation, religion (primarily and unfairly read as Buddhism) and the monarchy. The monarchy in particular has come under scrutiny and attack by the mostly young monarchy-reform and anti-government protesters. This begs the question as to whether one can still be a patriotic Thai and a republican.
On many fronts, the theatres of struggles to shatter the hegemonic discourses of beauty, gender, politics and Thai identity are occurring in parallel and will likely be protracted. Where there exists restrictive controls there exists resistance and the case of Anchilee is just one of the many occurring in Thailand at present.