Thailand has become a beauty-pageant organizing superpower over the past few years and decidedly with late last month’s purchase of Miss Universe brand by a tycoon and transgender activist Chakrapong “Anne” Chakrajutathip. Chakrapong paid 20 million U.S. dollars and is now in control of Miss Universe Organization (MU), which was partly and formerly owned by Donald Trump.
In an alternative ‘universe,’ the past 10 years saw another Thai tycoon, Nawat Itsaragrisil, built a Bangkok-based international beauty contest, known as Miss Grand International (MGI), into a rival international beauty contest brand and Mr. Nawat remains MGI President today.
The two brands alone, not to mention godzillian other local Thai competitions at all levels (Thailand even boasts an ‘Miss Elephant Daughter Beauty Contest,’ where very overweight women compete for a crown. And although there is yet to be a Ministry of Beauty Pageant, there are legions of websites and Facebook pages which discuss various beauty competitions year-round. One is aptly named in Thai, the “Ministry of Beauty Pageant of Thailand” for example, has nearly 200K Likes on Facebook and are influential.
All this means beauty pageant is now Thailand’s soft power and people like Nawat and Chakrapong are well-placed to direct the future course of international beauty contests.
Chakrapong did not wait long after the acquisition, she announced on social media that she wants to see Miss Universe competition to include married women, divorcees, transgenders, and the maximum age limits set at 27. We shall see how receptive the universe will be in the weeks and months ahead in her attempt to broaden the term “Miss.” That in itself had led to a healthy debate about the definition of “miss” and the notion of beauty and this is how Thailand’s soft power is being exerted.
Nawat on the other hand, positioned his Miss Grand International with a heavy tilt towards promoting local tourism and ensuring that shortlisted and finalist contestants at both national and international levels will have to answer questions related to politics and international politics.
This year’s just-concluded Miss Grand International 2022 competition in Indonesia highlighted the issue of war and it was inevitable to mention Russia and Ukraine, for example.
Thai fans wanting to see more crowns, be it Miss University or Miss Grand International being given to a Thai candidate may be disappointed as Thai ownership means Thai candidates will face greater and closer scrutiny by beauty pageant fans from other nations due to the obvious ownership issue.
MGI, for example, has been around for 10 years but no Thai candidate has so far been able to succeed as being crowned Miss Grand International. Despite that, this year’s first runner up Engfa Woraha was a subject of rigging accusation by Vietnamese MGI fans who believe their candidates deserved to score higher and as a result unfollowed MGI Instagram account in droves, driving the number of followers from 6 million down to 4.2 million within hours.
It is here where we see the nationalism side of international beauty queen contests, which is in a way not just a big entertainment business, but a surrogate war among nations not unlike that of the World Cup or the Olympic Competitions.
It is here that people like Nawat and Chakrapong can exercise their influence to shape the course of not just the future of both international beauty contests but also how nations should healthily compete and how nationalism can be channeled constructively at international arenas.