The Standard Group Plc is a multi-media organization with investments in media platforms spanning newspaper print operations, television, radio broadcasting, digital and online services. The Standard Group is recognized as a leading multi-media house in Kenya with a key influence in matters of national and international interest.
  • Standard Group Plc HQ Office,
  • The Standard Group Center,Mombasa Road.
  • P.O Box 30080-00100,Nairobi, Kenya.
  • Telephone number: 0203222111, 0719012111
  • Email: [email protected]

The ugly side of beauty pageants

 Miss USA 2023 Noelia Voigt [Instagram]

A few weeks ago, some beauty queens decided to give up their titles, which shone a different light on the modelling world.

Twenty-four-year-old former Miss USA 2023, Noelia Voigt, posted on Instagram, announcing her resignation, saying she was going to prioritise her mental health.

She captioned her statement on Instagram saying, “I realise this may come as a shock to many. Never compromise your physical and mental well-being. Our health is our wealth. A million thank yous to all of you for your constant and unwavering support. Time to write the next chapter.”

She expressed her gratitude for the opportunities she had had during her tenure, highlighting her work with Smile Train, a prominent cleft-focused organisation, and her advocacy efforts against bullying, dating violence, and immigration rights and reform.

Days later, 26-year-old Arianna Lemus, former Miss Colorado USA 2023, and 17-year-old UmaSofia Srivastava, former Miss USA Teen 2023, announced their resignations.

Following their resignations, the organisation, Miss Universe Organisation, which owns Miss USA and Miss USA Teen, released similar statements expressing gratitude for their “service” and stating that it “respects and supports” their choices.

To add a twist to the saga, the runner-up from last year’s Miss Teen USA competition says she also turned down the offer to succeed Srivastava.

This recent controversy sheds light on a darker side of the seemingly glamorous world of beauty pageants.

While the glitz of the crown projects an image of empowerment and achievement, the reality for many winners can be one of exploitation and unfulfilled promises.

Messry Lung’atso, the Miss BAIP (Beauty of Africa International Pageant) 2022/2023 worked with young mothers in the informal settlement of Kibera and took on many other humanitarian activities during her tenure.

Messry says that in Kenya as well, things are not as rosy as they are made to look, although most of the crown holders that we reached out to, remained mum about what happens behind closed doors.

“Yes the industry is glamorous but once the event is over that is where many get it rough. Most of these organisations are out here painting a picture-perfect scenario but in reality, more often than not. One is left in the cold to fend for themselves,” she says.

“Most projects require funding and if you do not know your way around, you will end up in a rat race,” she says.

“In this industry, you have to get the ball rolling by yourself, the organisers seem to take all the credit while you stay there as a poster boy. One needs to be in the know and have a tough skin while at it,” she says.

Multi-million industry

Without a doubt, this is a multimillion-dollar industry. Its reach extends far beyond national boundaries. Major pageants like Miss Universe and Miss World boast global audiences, attracting sponsors and media attention from across the globe. This international appeal further strengthens the industry’s financial muscle. But this doesn’t reflect the models’ pockets.

It should also be noted that of late, some ‘big boys’ in the industry are making their inroads into the pageantry world.

One such example is the Cabinet Secretary for Youth Affairs, Sports and the Arts, Ababu Namwamba who is said to have bought the Miss Universe franchise.

“This move saw many question whether Ababu will use his office to influence the pageant and pump money into it despite this not being the main beauty pageant in Kenya,” says Leakey Odera, Managing Director at Pambazuka Entertainment.

This has other organisers worried, as they didn’t know whether the government would be fair or not in terms of monetary support and not just lean towards one. 

“This is indeed a business like any other therefore other pageant organisers seem to be in a rush since they don’t know their fate and are all trying to outdo each other and get a piece of the cake,” says Leakey.

“Most people don’t understand the industry. They think it’s all about event organising. This has been evident in how most Kenyan organisations run their pageants. These models need nurturing and guidance to on how to go about it.” 

Leakey says the journey of a beauty queen is not for the faint-hearted.

“Most judges see a beautiful face and a nice gown and that’s it. But when it comes to the delivery of their mandate, some girls fail terribly. 

This week, a major beauty pageant was launched and a little birdie tells us the models were only given two weeks to get everything in place, including a registration fee of Sh3,000.

“This only shows that most models from far-flung areas will be locked out and we shall see the same old faces competing in the said pageant,” says a source who sought anonymity.

Leakey says that pageants need planning.

“In the late 90s, we seemed like we were getting things right but the rain started beating us at some point. A successful modelling career is built on a foundation of hard work, dedication, and multifaceted skills. Great models are not just clothes hangers; they are performers, artistes, and business people who should navigate the complexities of the industry with grace and professionalism,” he says. 

Former Miss Lamu, Jennifer Waruingi, says the crown is a hat of honour to a woman who has walked the runway, but as soon as they are coronated, a burden of frustrations sets in.

“Despite all the glamour associated with it, modelling is idolised and sexualised with several people thinking it is an opportunity to prey on innocent and naïve models. At the Coast this is a common occurrence despite the standards we have tried to set for the next generation of queens,” she says.

Once one is crowned a queen, they find themselves at the mercy of county bureaucrats.

“These people will promise you heaven and will give you an audience once in a while, at times inviting you to their events where your role is reduced to a flower girl’s, but when you organise your own, they don’t reciprocate or support,” says Jennifer.

Jennnifer started the Kenya Modeling and Beauty Academy, which she uses to mentor upcoming models and organise contests in secondary schools.

“One of the reasons I started it was to create a platform that would ensure an easy and seamless transition into the modelling world, and create professionalism like any other career. Having a unique culture allows Muslim models to hit the runway with hijabis,” she says. 

Eunice Mayiamei, who was crowned Miss Tourism Kajiado County in 2018, says frustrations have impeded the plans she had when contesting for the coveted crown.

The model, who was still on campus when she won, had to adapt to e-learning to complement her work, something that did not go well with her parents.

“I was naïve and did not know how to manoeuvre the bureaucracy in the county system. One day a friend introduced me to the deputy governor with whom I shared my aversions and after that, he made a call to the tourism department where I was placed, and that is when I started working under them,” she says.

Eunice known as Maya in the modelling world wanted to make a difference in her community.

“Government processes can be repugnant and I wish processes could be made easier. I have been holding the title since 2018 as no contest has happened after,” she says.

Now a commercial model with a fashion and design outfit, she has been conducting mentorship sessions for girls in Maasai counties - she involves other established models and offers support for the upcoming ones through training. All these, she does out of her pocket.

Related Topics


Trending Now


Popular this week