Miss Expat Competition – Improving Integration?
Many new expats experience feelings of isolation, estrangement and difference. Some find their host nation to be different than they expected, while others find the local populace more difficult to mix with than they anticipated. Such situations can put a dampener on the expatriate experience or bring it to a premature end, but in the Czech Republic they’ve developed an interesting way of helping female expats feel accepted.
In the past foreigners living and working in the Czech Republic have occasionally experienced instances of racism, or felt excluded from their neighbourhood. The organisers of the Miss Expat Czech Republic Competition are hoping to bring such issues to an end.
The event was established in 2011 by Dana Gregorova and the G-Company and is one of the only beauty contests in the world aimed directly at foreigners.
As Dana explains: ‘Actually, the idea to launch the Miss Expat beauty contest was conceived at a ball given by a company that employs many foreign young women [...] Some of them were very good-looking, and I concluded that I should do something to make them ‘come out of the shadows,’ so that they would integrate more fully into the Czech society.’
The aims of the completion are laid out clearly in its mission statement: ‘To help improve the social and cultural consciousness of Czech society regarding people from foreign countries who choose to study or work in the Czech Republic; to help them become a part of the Czech society and improve their relationships with Czech people [and] to help alleviate the widespread prejudice against foreigners.’
Although the completion is open to all foreign women between the ages of 18-30 who live and work/study in the Czech Republic, they must be unmarried and childless.
Over 100 women, from nations including Indonesia and Cambodia, entered the first competition. After initial casting stages nine finalists remained.
Competition finalists are asked to discuss the countries they come from, explain how they find living in the Czech Republic and say why they entered the competition.
As well as the infamous swimsuit round, contestants have to walk down a catwalk wearing costumes which are representative of their nations.
In 2011 Namibian Pauliuna Nakashole became the first Miss Expat winner, and in 2012 Colombian Paula Alejandra Gonzalez took the crown.
Although the competition has sparked backlash, with intensely controversial comments being posted on several media websites, some members of the press are supportive of what Dana Gregorova is trying to achieve.
Martin Komárek, a journalist with Mladá fronta Dnes, moderated the Miss Expat Final. Komárek commented that the Czech Republic ‘unfortunately still has quite a number of passive but stubborn racists’, but he is hopeful that this competition will help locals warm to foreign workers and remove some of the prevailing stereotypes and prejudices.
On the Miss Expat competition website it states: ‘Every woman coming to our country had to undergo the difficult processes of adjusting herself to the different social habits and to other demands associated with immigration. Even though the barriers and differences might sometimes be very obvious to us, there are some universal values that are perceived the same way by all of the nations of the world. Let’s introduce some tolerance into our own lives and let us get carried away by the cultural and social differences that can enrich us in so many different ways. Let the feminine beauty that inspires us and attracts us from the very dawn of time speak for itself.’
Some have argued that this kind of competition objectifies women and encourages the people who watch them to have a distorted idea of the female image. But could walking down a runway in a swimsuit really help to stamp out racism?
What do you think of the Miss Expat competition? Is it a good way of integrating foreign woman, or will it just make them more isolated?
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