If I say Iraq, what comes to your mind? Most people might not associate it with the Miss Iraq Beauty Competition. This competition started in 1947 with Renee Dangoor as Miss Iraq and has since been held annually and was preceded by the Miss Baghdad competition that started as early as 1934.
Renee was Jewish, and scrolling through the winners the differences reveal a society that hosted plural religions and ethnicities, where a certain name or background didn’t hold you back from public achievements.
During the centuries the competition developed accordingly with the surrounding world; it became a scholarship program; in the 70s the swimming suit part was removed in response to the feminist movement (although reintroduced later on); and in 2002 an attempt was being made to merge it with an Iraqi Eurovision song context. As time had it’s influence – in 2003 when the society started to collapse and extremist groups began their ruling by fear, it became impossible to hold the competitions inside Iraq. Since then it has been staged abroad: in Kenya, France and Turkey. Wealthy liberal Iraqis outside the country set up the competition and young Iraqi women in exile participated. Iraqis I know often speak about the good old times, when Iraq was a dynamic and rich society, not the sad and messy country we are so used to from the news today. The struggle for the Iraqi beauty competitions might be a reminder for people whos country no longer is.
In the last years, the circumstances around the competition has taken a new turn: the participants consists of less and less women of Iraqi descents. In 2006 the newly crowned miss Iraq Tamar Goregian resigned after four days – she had been threatened by an extremist group calling her “the queen of infidels”. Before taking the decision to step down, when still hopeful, Tamara bravely said: “Maybe beauty is the final step to end violence and preach world peace after all. The power of beauty surpasses the ugly face of politics and greed.” Other participants pulled out after her. Even though being outside, they didn’t feel safe. Now white women from former Yugoslavia and Spain have taken the places of the Iraqis.
No matter what one might think about beauty pageants, in a free world everyone should have the right to join one or demonstrate against it. I hope the Iraqi women will come back one day and claim their rightsome place.