How Attending A Beauty Pageant Allowed Me To Celebrate My Own Heritage

by Isabelle Zanzer

Let me be honest with you and start by saying I'm nowhere your typical "girly girl."

So, it came off as more of a shock than a surprise when I accepted my friend's invitation to watch her sing at the Miss USSR UK beauty pageant taking place in the heart of London.

Beauty contests have always made me laugh because of the outdated image of women walking around with crowns placed neatly on their heads.

I always thought beauty contests were the epitome of superficiality, and it didn't seem likely my opinion would change anytime soon.

Yet, I've come to terms that (once in a while) my stubborn Aries personality needs to open her mind to the idea she may be wrong.

The Miss USSR UK contest, held yearly, is the only international annual beauty contest among women from former Soviet Union countries, currently living in the United Kingdom.

The annual event attracts a vast majority of fashion designers, models as well as other respected leaders in the industry making their names in fashion, cosmetics, jewelry and television in the UK.

The contest is a way for women to represent not only their beauty, but also their cultural heritage.

Growing up as Russian descendants, I was struck with the familiarity of everything these contestants said and established.

From food to tradition, I could relate to everything these women were saying as they took their places on the stage, glancing at one at another not as competitors, but as sisters.

As I mentioned previously, every year, the unique concept of women representing their heritage attracts a significant amount of world-recognized names from the fashion and entertainment industries, as well as respected corporate and government figures from both the UK and post-Soviet countries.

Media representative Leah Semerdjieva stressed the importance of having the women represent their cultural background as she guided and delegated at every part of the event, making sure every detail smoothly fell into place.

I was struck at the amount of professionalism that came with organizing a beauty pageant.

Past judges have included Russian celebrities such as restaurant magnate Arkady Novikov, supermodel and TV presenter Victoria Bonya, fashion designer Masha Tsigal and her English colleague Elizabeth Emanuel (Princess Diana’s dress maker), along with entertainers such as DJ Smash.

The contestants, all dressed in beautiful gowns, seemed nowhere near nervous as they took the microphone in their hands to showcase their chosen talents, as if they'd done so thousands of times.

Looking at the women, I finally realized there is nothing wrong with wanting to look beautiful.

Granted, I'd rather wear my hoodie and sweatpants all day than apply too much makeup any day, but what's wrong with enhancing your features once in a while?

People think the main idea behind beauty pageants is the contestants all need to look flawless in order to be confident.

Yet, the only thing I saw was a group of women embracing their cultural heritage and having fun in the process.

And the most entertaining part?

They didn't take themselves too seriously.

The idea of perfection has been imprinted in our minds by our friends, our family and of course, the media.

But when did caring for ourselves stop being fun?

It may have been the atmosphere (the contest was held at Troxy, one of the most elite locations in London, after all) or the fact all of the contestants had similar cultural backgrounds, but none of them looked remotely worried.

"It's just a way for us to get together and to remind ourselves where we come from," whispered one contestant in my ear, after noticing my amused look throughout the night.

"We celebrate how far our parents and their parents have come, and it reminds us of our traditions we grew up with. And if it gives us an excuse to dress up, why not?"

Oh, and the funniest part?

I received a message from Ekaterina Kungurova, one of the event's leading organizers, the very next day asking me if I wanted to participate in the future.

This event made me realize you need to enjoy your beauty in your own way, and you don't ever lose your cultural heritage in the process.

It's the whole reason you look the way you do.