love watching Miss Universe on TV when I was a kid. Little did I expect that years later, my career gives me the opportunity to make friends with many beauty queens. 

Today, beauty pageants are so diverse, from Miss Universe Malaysia, Miss World Malaysia, Miss Malaysia Tourism, Miss Cosmopolitan World Malaysia, Mrs Tourism Queen Malaysia and others. But how did it all begin in Malaysia?

Past Beauty Pageants

Malaya held its first beauty pageant, Miss Federation of Malaya in the early 1950s. This was followed by Miss Malaysia Universe and Miss Malaysia World after independence. There were not many pageants back then. So it was a huge pride to win a title.

According to Maggie Loo, Miss Malaysia Universe 1973, “In the early days, beauty pageant prizes were cash, television, refrigerator and even Bata shoes. I won the grand prize of RM500 and it was considered as a big thing in those days. Participants had to design and bring their own evening gown. Sponsors from fashion designers only came in years later.”

As years went by in the 80s and 90s, sponsorship was easy as the media hype surrounding beauty pageants encouraged many companies, including beauty, hard liquor and car brands to participate. 

Today, the prizes are more lucrative, from RM50,000 to RM150,000 cash for a big title like Miss Universe Malaysia, Miss World and others. Participants are also more fortunate as there are more sponsors, including fashion designers for their gowns. 

From Miss to Mrs

Beauty pageants have become a profitable income churning industry thanks to prominent pageant leaders like the late Liu Chang Lan, franchise holder of Miss Malaysia Universe, Paul Lee, franchise holder of Miss Malaysia World and Alex Liu, Managing Director of ERM Marketing Malaysia.

The pageant landscape has also forayed into married women category. In 2010, ERM Marketing tapped into Mrs. Malaysia World 2010. This has set the pace to more Mrs beauty pageant and is now considered common in Malaysia.

“Today, many beauty pageant organisers used to be former beauty queens,” says Jenet Foo, the organiser of Mrs Malaysia Tourism Queen and Tourism Queen International.

Making of a Beauty Queen

Technology plays a vital role in beauty pageants. In the past, the judging is solely dependent on a few judges but today, the public have the chance to vote for their favourite contestants through social media.

“To choose a winner is not easy. Judges from different background may have different opinions. However, first impression is always important. The winners always have that aura around them when they appear on stage,” says Datin Maylene Yong who is a judge for many beauty pageants. For Maggie Loo, the winner must also have that X factor that makes her stand out from the rest. 

Malaysia can stand tall with many successful past winners like Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh, Yasmin Yusoff, Lina Teoh, Erra Fazira, Kavita Sidhu and Carol Lee. 

Whatever it is, behind the glitz and glam of beauty pageants, all the participants go through a tough learning process that will transform their life forever. “The experience itself is more important than winning,” claims Chilla Cha, Mrs Asia International All Nation 2017 and Mrs Malaysia Asia International 2017. 

Special thanks to Datin Maylene Yong, Maggie Loo, Jenet Foo and Chilla Cha; and also sponsor of hair and make-up, Nulnu Lifestyle Mall.

Text and photos by Francis Yip

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