KUCHING: The beauty pageant industry is one that glorifies glamour and showmanship — but several less rosy truths lie hidden in its underbelly.
It is undeniable that numerous pageant finalists or winners have gone on to garner success in their lives. Many of them have experienced improved self-esteem and confidence as a result of their involvement in beauty pageants.
However, not all of them have been fortunate in their endeavours.
It was revealed by beauty pageant organiser Alaric Soh that many organisers of franchise pageants have not delivered on their promise of monetary prizes owed to the competition winners.
Soh, who has been part of the industry for 30 years with over 100 state, national and international level pageants under his belt including Miss Cheongsam, Miss Tourism, and Miss Borneo Beautiful, has been making efforts to answer the distress calls of beauty pageant participants.
“This has been a rampant issue in Sarawak for the past 30 years,” he said with discontent during an exclusive interview with the New Sarawak Tribune, adding that the problem has also been observed nationwide.
According to Soh, there is a high turnover rate for organisers in the pageant industry — it is not uncommon for some to last no more than three years. He reasoned that this was because they do not pay their contestants.
This does not just apply to the prize money; the situation sometimes even extends to expenses forked out by pageant contestants for their costumes and flight tickets.
So, why have beauty pageant participants kept their silence all these years? Why have these issues been kept relatively low-key?
“These women are usually too shy or embarrassed to come forward. Some do post on social media, but even those who have read their complaints still continue to join pageants,” he lamented.
In addition, Soh stated that some of the participants have their eyes so set on the crown and title that they forget about their prize money entitlement.
“Some may have been silenced by the organisers threatening to take away their crown or title,” he said.
Cinthy Yii, who was also present during the interview and was crowned winner of Miss Sarawak World 1997, Miss Malaysia World 1997 third runner-up, Mrs Sarawak 2016 first runner-up, and Mrs Borneo World 2017 second runner-up, compared the change in mentality when it comes to beauty pageants nowadays.
“Originally, beauty pageants were held with the purpose of serving the community and advocating good causes.
“These days, they are more focused on the crown and title,” Yii said sadly.
With regards to taking legal action, Soh pointedly posed the question — who would pursue their case and pay RM20,000 or so in legal fees for a pageant prize sum of just RM1,000?
There are also additional complications such as lack of black-and-white proof or agreements that are less sound.
Furthermore, Soh expressed his frustration that just about anybody can host a beauty pageant without a licence.
He then gave the example of China, whereby beauty pageants were illegal up until 1990, at which point the large population made it difficult to keep the ban in place. This led to guidelines being put in place to regulate pageants and protect contestants.
“Here, there is no authoritative body to regulate beauty pageants,” Soh said incredulously while advising that the actions of China in relation to pageants should be followed.
“Whoever has the intention to organise a beauty pageant should be registered and they should have to pay a deposit,” he stressed.
Soh conveyed his disappointment that all these unsavoury happenings have made a mockery of the beauty pageant industry while also tarnishing the good name of Sarawak.
During the interview, Soh also questioned the role of non-governmental organisations (NGO) focused on women, saying, “I do not know what they are doing, they should be protecting the rights of these women.”
Soh urged the state government to establish a regulatory body for pageants. In reference to pageants backed by officials, he strongly suggested that these sponsors hold back the prize money until it can be ensured that payment is made directly to the pageant winners.
“Some advice for pageant participants — before joining, check the background of the organisers and always read the terms and conditions carefully,” he emphasised.
The beauty pageant organiser voiced his plans to discuss these extensive issues with the state secretary soon.