We all look up to beauty titlists – these women’s undeniable elegance and oozing appeal just make us all want to be like them. But unknown to most, beauty pageant winners and beauty competitions go beyond what they’re presumed to be. They are on a mission to change the world for the better, or at least make a difference in their own places. As Som Kanika writes, the women in Miss Universe Cambodia are on the same path.
It was in 2016 when Cambodia held its first national beauty pageant and sent By Sotheary as the first ever Cambodian woman to walk on the Miss Universe stage. After Sotheary, Rern Nat represented the Kingdom in the pageant in Bangkok.
These two women, despite not bringing home the most coveted Miss Universe crown and sash, were epitomes of all Khmer women – strong-willed, hopeful and courageous. And yes, beautiful, stunningly beautiful.
With Cambodia gaining a renewed attention in the international pageant scene, the Kingdom continues to stage the competition, now renamed as Miss Universe Cambodia, for the third time.
At the NagaCity Walk last week, a palpable sense of excitement was in the air as the 25 official candidates of Miss Universe Cambodia 2019 were finally presented to the public.
The crowd cheered and applauded as each of the candidates went up on stage looking so glamorous and elegant in their glittering gowns. As they gracefully walked one by one, their individual confidence and sophistication filled the air.
But while we all know that winning the Miss Universe Cambodia title is not an easy dream, being in the official roster has hardships of its own. Applicants from all provinces and cities were screened last month, until Arise Agency – the main organiser of the pageant – finally selected the 25 most deserving ladies to compete for the crown on March 31.
The candidates do not just represent and promote their respective provinces, but they will become ambassadors of our country’s tourism and culture. They are more than “beautiful faces and bodies in the limelight”. They are, first and foremost, role models.
“Miss Universe is one of the biggest pageants in the world. It will be an honour to represent our country. Miss Universe Cambodia must be prepared mentally, physically and emotionally,” said Sotheary after she called in the candidates on stage.
“I can see that this year, all the candidates are passionate and their smiles exude confidence and elegance as shown how they walked on stage today.”
Chhoy Panha, one of the official Miss Cambodia Universe candidates, shared that it has been her longtime dream to win a beauty contest. At 23, Panha hopes to not only live her dream but also to inspire other women to believe in themselves and their own beauty no matter what society says.
“As human beings, we are bombarded with different insecurities that lead us to self-doubt. We stop ourselves from doing things and from dreaming big. I personally hold on to the belief that there is no harder challenge than winning over yourself. As long as you have discipline, you will be able to do whatever you want. Whether I win or fail in this competition, I will have no regrets because I know that I’m giving my best.”
Another candidate, Khon Srey Nich, noted how she wanted to bring glory to the country.
“I choose this path because walking on stage has always given me confidence. And being Miss Universe Cambodia, I will have the chance to represent our nation. I think that’s a great privilege to bring our country’s name for the world to see,” said the 18-year-old contestant.
As calm and self-assured she may seemed on stage, Khon Srey Nich admitted that one of the major challenges as a beauty pageant candidate is walking on high heels.
“It’s not easy and it will never be easy for women in general. It’s really a challenge to walk with a pair of high-heeled shoes while everyone’s looking at you,” she said, adding that joining the competition made her learn walking techniques.
But while every Cambodian is fond of “beauty and glamour”, Srey Nich acknowledged that society isn’t too open to beauty pageants or to the fashion scene.
“Wanting to be Miss Cambodia or to be a fashion model may come as a challenge for many women because society does not really encourage this kind of career. They think it’s not conservative enough. But if you badly love to be one, hold on to it and find the courage to follow what your heart desires. You own your life so do what makes you feel alive.”
Romyr Libo-on, the man behind the birth of Miss Cambodia, conveyed the same message as to why the national pageant started in 2016 despite all the hurdles, cynicism and misconceptions from a conservative society.
“Miss Universe Cambodia is a platform for young women in Cambodia where they can be socially relevant. They can become empowered women. Like Miss Universe, it shall give women in their communities the opportunities to promote their country and culture, be of help to certain causes that they are passionate about, give them opportunities to voice out their advocacies and willingness to influence and of course to prepare to be confidently beautiful with themselves,” Romyr told Good Times2.
All the Miss Universe Cambodia 2019 candidates will go through different activities designed to preserve cultural heritage and promote eco-tourism in the Kingdom.
“These are essential hands on and personal experience that each candidate should have so that when they win and represent their country at international competitions they are able to proudly represent Khmer culture, values and identity,” Romyr emphasised.
The candidates are also given huge opportunities to help in nation-building by looking at specific social advocacies such as education, environment and women and children’s health.
With the pageant’s mission to go beyond the physical attributes of Khmer women, the official candidates in this year’s competition carry with them the responsibility to embody the Kingdom’s true identity, culture, history, tradition and aspirations.
And like Sotheary By and Rern Nat, the next Miss Universe Cambodia will proudly advance her advocacy and hopes within and beyond the Kingdom of Wonder.
Miss Universe Cambodia Grand Coronation Night will be on March 31, 8:00pm in NABA Theatre, Naga 2 with a live TV broadcast on CTN.