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Beauty Pageant

Beauty Pageant

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Published by DawnK0

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Published by: DawnK0 on Jun 18, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Dec 13th 2009, 00:00
021 discovers that beauty is beyond the eye of the beholder at the Lancashire Manufacturers Beauty Pageant. Fridaynight at the Grassy Park Hotel, where the annual Lancashire Manufacturers Beauty Pageant is being held. TheGrassy Park Hotel is not an obviously glamorous setting. In the events hall, laminated wood walls are lined withdartboards concealed behind mirrors advertising Richelieu brandy. 1970s globe lampshades hang from the cherry-red ceiling. A faint scent of alcohol and cigarette smoke permeates the wooden fl oors, long scuffedof varnish, lending an aura of disappointed dreams.But the arrival of Elbes Leonard, the vibrant events manager, gives the whole scene some spit and polish. Under theinfluence of his leonine personality, ennui dispels. Later, the hall fills and backstage buzzes as contestants in thebeauty contest arrange their boas and make last-minute adjustments to their ball gowns. Contestant no. 9, 37-year-old Shahjeda Achmat, admits, “I’m so nervous.” An orange plume swells like a sun-stained cloud in front of her amplecleavage. Contestant no. 1, dressed in an aquamarine mermaid outfi t, is nonchalant. Her hair fans out in a Grecianstyle, giving her an air of nobility. Indeed, tonight, each one of these women is a queen for the brief time that theystep on stage in front of the audience of several hundred. On Monday morning, they will be back at their machines,stitching the hems of the uniforms that the factory has been manufacturing since 1936. It’s low-paid work that barelyrises above the level of drudgery. But these women know how to make the most of life.The tedium of their jobs is relieved by a ferocious camaraderie, characterised by the ear-piercing screams that greeteach woman’s arrival at the hotel. The laughter among these women is loud, frequent and tinged with defi ance asthough to declare to the world, “Our lives are tough but we know what to make of them.” Screams of ‘Yeerah’ rip likelightning bolts through the cigarettesmoke-thick air. Monday morning is far from these women’s minds as they scoop up their busts from the outside,push them toward the centre for maximum effect and add glitter to further highlight their assets. The contestants havespent weeks preparing for this event. The diverse group of entrants spans a 20-year age range. The youngest isunder 20 and the eldest over 40. There is just as much disparity in body types, which range from plump juicy pears toripe apples.It’s difficult to see where beauty defi ned in any conventional sense enters the equation. Andeveryone knows it. “We’re not all pretty ladies,” says contestant no. 10, Carmen Rosseau.Here, oversize garments are more in evidence than oversize egos. This contest is about fun andfemale bonding. Carmen says, “It’s about smiles and personality. We all love each other verymuch. It’s all for one and one for all.” Meanwhile, onstage, Jada the drag artist and compère for the evening receivesrapturous applause as he fl icks his sculpted calves behind him, like a coquettish fl amingo, then initiates a movementthat originates in his ankles and takes full and marvellous effect in his buttocks, which vibrate with the precision of aplucked double bass string. His act reaches a climax when he flings himself like a dying swan onto the floor and, myheavens, lifts his leg aloft, making his private parts momentarily public. The mostly female audience goes wild. Another transvestite struts among the crowds like a golden giraffe in a teensy, lamé outfit that makes NaomiCampbell seem voluptuous. In Grassy Park, the transvestites are a staunch part of the community and preside over events such as these.The women on stage are more homely than the arch gender-bending divas. With the glee of young girls trying ontheir mother’s high heels, they teeter onto the stage, the audience encouraging them to be too big for their boots. Ihave a revelation. In the waspy whitemiddle-class tribe that I awkwardly belong to, women look at each other with a critical, comparative eye, ripping youto shreds as they glance over the pages of Vogue and VanityFair. None of my kind has ever experienced the rapturous appreciation that these womenso generously bestow on one another. The women on stage tonight are being given an undiluted shot of self-esteem,more potent than endless hours of therapy in any middleclass, suburban psychologist’s room. “We Coloureds supporteach other,” explains Vivienne Willenburgh, a hairdresser at Lynette’s Hair Studio in Steenberg.She’s out for a jol tonight with 15 of her girlfriends. She says, “We know how to enjoy ourselvesbecause we grew up tough.” I’m stunned when minutes later she leaps on stage to participate in the glamorousgranny segment of the evening. Oddly, the glamorous grannies and the fuller figure ladies are competing at the sametime. Jada interrogates each of the women: “Glamorous granny, or fuller figure?” In most cases, it’s a rhetoricalquestion – there’s no doubting the category that the impressively large women belong to. There’s an awkwardmoment when Jadarefuses to believe that Vivienne belongs to either category. However, she insists on her grannystatus. It is easy to understand Jada’s suspicion. Gravity has had little say in this woman’s tight

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