Head to head: Beauty contested
Bugbear of Seventies feminists, `Miss World' is back on terrestrial TV. Last thing we need, says Kathy Lette. But former winner Wilnelia Forsyth is delighted
"I began working as a model when I was 13, because I was tall for a Puerto Rican girl. I was doing fashion shows while I was still at school. Winning Miss World was an amazing experience for me. My whole life went through my head in five seconds. It's like seeing your life in a film. It's fantastic. I was very proud, because Puerto Rico is a small island, and it was a big thing for them. The show was one of the last ones held at the Albert Hall before the programme went off. When it went off it had 14 million viewers in Britain alone. It really is amazing that such a small minority can decide in this country what people have to do.
Miss World does not exploit women. We use the competition more than the competition uses us. We all wanted to be there. Nobody forces you to do it. And this is a beauty competition. Why not show a nice body? If you see a nice girl or a handsome man, you look. If it was just about seeing a girl in a bathing suit it might be strange. But they are looking for a personality, a good body, and intelligence. And now there's also a Mr World.
The contest gave me the best opportunity of my life. To be able to travel, to make some money. Then I met Bruce [Forsyth] and had the most wonderful time. I met Bruce in 1980 as a fellow judge of that year's Miss World. He was very funny. He was asking the girls the most fantastic questions. He asked the girl from Turkey: what do you have in your country for Christmas? He asked me to dance at the party afterwards. I said: `My God, are you sure you're English? You dance like a Latin.' We started going out and we were married two years later."
Wilnelia Forsyth, Miss World in 1975, now runs both the Miss and Mr Puerto Rico contests. `Miss World' will be screened on Channel 5 on Thursday 26 November at 9pm.
"Bringing back Miss World after so many years is such a step back. I keep thinking: Emily Pankhurst tied herself to the railings, for what! What century are we supposed to be in? The organisers are trying to get away with it because of post-feminism. They're thinking: feminists are now an extinct breed. We can get away with it with some post-modern, post- irony, post-feminist excuse.
Any woman who calls herself a post-feminist has kept her Wonderbra and burnt her brains. The fact is for women in Britain things haven't improved that much. We're still only getting 75p for every pounds 1 men earn despite all this talk about equal pay. We're still doing all the housework. We're still getting concussion hitting our heads on the glass ceiling. And now, to top it all, they're bringing back Miss World, encouraging men to be sexist and shape-ist again.
People keep saying: oh yes, but look at the money it raises for charity. The women I know would pay money to charity not to have to watch Miss World. They say they're sprucing up the contest to emphasise personality more. That's a joke. Men don't watch this to ogle at a woman's personality. Besides which, the women in these shows don't have time to have a personality. They've got to bikini-wax every five seconds, they've got to do a nipple rouge, they've got to do sit-ups, they've got to dye their roots, push back their cuticles. The whole thing reinforces the stereotype that a woman is an object and that is where her worth lies.
If people want to watch a competition, and they want to raise money for charity, let's have Mr Stud-Muffin. Let's make men come out in their G-strings and talk about their hobbies. But of course then men would cry foul."
Kathy Lette's latest book, `Altar Ego', is published by Picador, pounds 12.99.
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