Like many people in Cambodia, I have been following the Miss Landmine pageant and pondering the perceived benefits of such an event. I fully agree that the pageant brings the issue of land mines to the forefront, gives victims a face and a voice, and challenges existing stereotypes and concepts of beauty. However, I'm tempted to condone the cancellation of the competition because I feel there are better ways to reach these objectives without resorting to a medium based on competition and superficiality. Yes, the competition is supposed to show that women with missing limbs can be beautiful, but could this not have been highlighted in a different way? Via a photo shoot, interactive seminar, or larger multimedia campaign? Could the organisers have teamed up with other NGOs and clinics, pooled the resources from sponsors, and given ALL these women custom-made prosthetics that they wouldn't have to "compete" for?
As for beauty, whose concept of beauty is being promoted? I visited the Web site and found the women from different villages in halter tops and short dresses, which may or may not be the clothing that they would usually wear, but it seemed out of place. Are the organisers, while completely well-meaning, pushing a Western interpretation of "empowerment" where beauty and liberation is equated with being sexy and showing skin? I would have rather liked to see the women wearing something they chose, Western or traditional Khmer, modern or conservative, which made them feel their most beautiful.
They should be given an opportunity to not only show how beautiful they are on the outside, but to show the inner strength and resilience they possess to live with their experience and carry on, to inspire other survivors and those of us who often take our lives for granted. That, to me, is empowerment.
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