Miss Landmine Angola

misslandmine08.jpg

(Updated)
The Miss Landmine Angola competition is a pageant that seeks to celebrate female empowerment and expand definitions of beauty. I’m no huge fan of pageants, and I can understand arguments against adopting regressive practices like beauty contests even in an effort to challenge beauty norms. Seeing women in bikinis isn’t exactly revolutionary; but seeing women whose bodies are outside of the thin, white, able-bodied ideal in bikinis can feel pretty ground-breaking. I especially like their Manifesto:

* Female pride and empowerment.
* Disabled pride and empowerment.
* Global and local landmine awareness and information.
* Challenge inferiority and/or guilt complexes that hinder creativity- historical, cultural, social, personal, African, European.
* Question established concepts of physical perfection.
* Challenge old and ingrown concepts of cultural cooperation.
* Celebrate true beauty.
* Replace the passive term ‘Victim’ with the active term ‘Survivor’

Can’t argue with that.

That said, though, there is still an issue with slotting women into the traditional femininity box in order to make her physical appearance more acceptable. I like that these women are unapologetic and proud of their bodies; however, BfP makes a good point:

Supposedly it is to be used as a way to raise awareness–but is it really necessary to call a woman “Miss Landmine” to get the damn point across? And what with Heather Mills dancing in the Dancing with the Stars show–I’m wondering, should we call her Miss Car Accident if she wins the competition?
Perhaps I am too cynical?

Unfortunately, it looks like I was too quick to voice my approval of this project — Black Looks highlights the fact that the contest is being used to promote designer clothes in fashion magazines:

My mind is not in a place where I can think clearly but my gut reaction to this is that it is highly offensive, disgusting exploitation of African women. In the background of some of the photos there are these white people smiling and glowing as they make up and dress the women – like mannequins. Putting the issue of beauty pageants aside and the patronising comments on Western opinions and African cultural traditions etc, it is still an inappropriate tool which objectifies women beside landmine survivors are men as well as women. Even the use of the words Miss Landmine is horrible. And who the hell is going to be buying these glossy magazines and wearing these fancy clothes? Certainly not the women survivors who are poor unemployed women?

I stand corrected.

Thanks to Luther for the link, and Damia in the comments.


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18 comments for “Miss Landmine Angola

  1. sgzax
    November 19, 2007 at 1:05 pm

    Sure, but why do women always have to get into bikinis to prove how great and worthy they are? Why does it have to be framed as a beauty contest? How does that improve things?

    My ingrained aversion to beauty contests will prevent me from being able to tease out the threads of empowerment and positivity in this event.

  2. November 19, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    That’s my hang-up too, sgzax. I guess the best I can explain it is by repeating something I read elsewhere (I don’t remember where now), which argued that any time you see a fat person on TV and they aren’t a victim or a butt of a joke, but are presented as normal characters, it’s revolutionary. I think there’s a similar dynamic going on here.

    Agreed that the beauty pageant framing is problematic. But I still think it’s pretty cool.

  3. TinaH
    November 19, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    I’m going back and forth about the beauty pageant framing. It’s incredibly subversive. It’s also deeply powerful to see the truth laid bare – with no shaming accepted. I am awestruck by the pride and power that I see in these women’s faces.

  4. November 19, 2007 at 3:15 pm

    Is near as I can figure from looking at the slideshow on their front page, just about every aspect of women’s physical appearance is celebrated by this pageant.

    I’m sure at least one of the women was pregnant, and the models’ bodies were all shapes and sizes – the only things they had in common was that they were female, and that they’d been victims of landmines.

    I don’t see that as being a representation of the standard beauty pageant ethos, whereby success (even eligibility) is predetermined by a narrow definition of beauty, it seems to me to be breaking all those stereotypes.

    I call that, if not actual empowerment, then at least a step in the right direction.

  5. Ledasmom
    November 19, 2007 at 4:16 pm

    I’m sure at least one of the women was pregnant, and the models’ bodies were all shapes and sizes

    Miss Moxico is pregnant – if you look at her bio, under “kids” it says “soon”.

  6. damia
    November 19, 2007 at 5:45 pm

    Um…

    http://brownfemipower.com/?p=1146

    http://www.blacklooks.org/2007/03/miss_landmine_angola_2007.html

    Just sayin’ I wouldn’t accept this so uncritically.

  7. November 19, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    Thanks, Damia. I updated the post to reflect those views.

  8. orlando
    November 19, 2007 at 6:31 pm

    Regular beauty pagents are predicated on exclusion and conformity; what more subversive, challenging act could there be that such a proud demand for inclusion? Framing it as a beauty pagent improves things because the beauty pagent is territory that usually only admits those deemed acceptable to be made visible. These women are everything that the world tries to keep invisible, and they are claiming that territory as just as much theirs.

  9. Kay
    November 19, 2007 at 7:49 pm

    From a disability activist perspective, I’m torn (though lean toward hating more than accepting the pageant). What’s worse than being objectified as a woman? Being deemed outside the category of woman because of impairments or failure to meet a bodily norm. Being utterly invisible is worse, particularly with a history of disabled people being segregated, institutionalized or euthanized.

    But, of course, these women aren’t actually competing as normal women. It’s not a pageant for Miss Angola — it’s Miss Landmine Angola. And it’s not even Miss Amputee Angola, which would at least refer to the woman’s body and not the weapon that injured her.

    On the other hand, disability within different cultures is treated differently. Disabled babies in Ghana, for example, are routinely killed at birth. If not, they spend their lives begging on the street, according to the documentary film Emmanuel’s Gift. If the range of options are similar in Angola, than simply having your picture taken because of your beauty is a hugely accepting thing if you’re disabled. If it means some self-worth where society has none for you, or maybe a brief modeling job or access to a better prosthetic or even a better crutch than you’ve had, well, I don’t really know how to be fully against that.

    Then again, this isn’t a pageant for all disabled people either — the visibly congenitally disabled usually ranking below those with acquired disabilities in all cultures. It’s a pageant for those who were normal and thus, worthy, but are not normal anymore.

    I don’t think it’s particularly subversive, though, mainly because there’s nothing about the beauty pageant format that seems altered — it’s very much designed for the male gaze. I have a problem labeling someone’s presence where they’ve previously been absent as subversive. Action is subversive, not mere existence.

  10. November 20, 2007 at 1:49 am

    Wow.
    I have seriously mixed feelings about this.

  11. ChrisR
    November 20, 2007 at 1:59 am

    Instead of CNN-fluff “diamonds vs. pearls” questions, we should be asking what the candidates will do to end the weapons trade.

    What’s the main organization working on this issue? FCNL? Amnesty International? Something else?

  12. November 20, 2007 at 5:16 am

    As a disabled woman myself, my feelings are very mixed–but tend to the negative about this. Of course there’s the beauty standard thing: it’s nice that people will “accept” those of us with disabilities as beautiful, but I’m seriously questioning why we should have to prove it. What really gets me, though, is that it’s a competition–“look, this woman with one leg is prettier than that woman with one leg! Ok, she wins.” The idea makes me throw up a little. If they all have the same goal, why should they be competing?

    The fact that this is going to be used to promote designer clothes just reaffirms my belief that the world culture doesn’t care about people with disabilities unless they can use them to make money.

  13. Jadewolf
    November 20, 2007 at 5:42 pm

    Warning: stridency ahead. This makes me mad at the organizers, not Jill or the other posters here.

    Yeah, no. How does being objectified by men empower these women? Just because they were traditionally “unfuckable,” and now they’ve been glamorized, does not mean that they are turning the patriarchy on it’s head. They’ve just been co-opted. If, for example, there was a program for disabled people to go out in the community and be visible and demand acceptance as full human beings, that would be wonderful. But this pageant just has the women stand there and be objects for “designers” to dress and men to ogle.

  14. Indy
    November 21, 2007 at 6:53 am

    Oh sweet jesus.

    Angola is a deeply fucked up place. I did a paper on that nation for a sub-saharan geography class-

    Aparthied south africa had an intentional stratagy of destabalizing its neighbors, blowing shit up for giggles. Throw in the nifty US/Soviet proxy war (with castro in to boot) and you get a country covered in landmines. The largest heavy armor tank battle between WWII and Gulf I was fought there. The “socialist” president funnels the offshore oil revenue into his pocket, and back in the late 80’s on into the 90’s, they would intentionally re-mine the roads so that local cheiftans (who controlled the airstrips) could cut off outside contact and keep the local population in check by controlling all the airlifted UN food aid. The only good thing to happen there in recent years was when they finally tracked down and killed Jonas Savimbi, the “capitalist” gurrilla/US proxy/meglomaniac. With him gone, at least nobody is putting out even more landmines.

    They don’t have crutches. If you survive the mine, you will be a beggar, and you will be lucky to a pipe. or a stick. One account I read talked about a woman who had basically ended up with scoliosis due to her heavy, uneven improvised crutches. This was just an aside in a story about election rigging.

    This issue THE LANDMINE issue, is the one that is viscerally important. I’m really glad to see some / any mention of this, anywhere.

    This sounds like some peace corps kidz pipe dream, but it may actually help some people.

    This is Angola. They shoot people who show any form of civic engagement. The president’s personal bodyguard/secret police “the ninjas”, face absolutely no reprocussions for shooting you. Being near a presidential motorcade can get you killed. Being a journalist will get you killed. Asking for things in an organized, public fashion would proably come in #3.

    This project appears to be funded by the EU and some nordic countries.
    And one artist guy who comes across as kind of a jerk, but does acknowledge some of the issues raised here.

    http://www.miss-landmine.org/misslandmine_press_eng10.html

    (I say acknowlege, not actually address. He basically says everything on the Angolan side is ducky, and that the old-school feminists who run western aid organizations go completely blank on him whenever he uses the words “beauty pagent”.)

    A beauty pagent at least has a naritive framework. The idea of “click on the link to look at desperately poor mangled people from a forgotten third world dictatorship” really lacks, uh, any sort of appeal whatsoever.

    On another note, anybody see the class stuff? Like, how a lot of the staged shots are done in bussness settings, on cellphones? or the woman with the roll posed on top of that safe?

    Bling! Comes to Angola.

  15. gail
    December 29, 2007 at 3:21 pm

    I thought it was a Howard Stern-type satire. But no, it’s for real. I am astounded. I believe the expression is “commodifying suffering”. Is it true that the winner receives a prosthetic leg?

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