Well, hello girls!

Pouting beauties, bikini line-up, vital statistics. Sexist? Hardly. This is Miss Lesbian Beauty 1997. Frances Williams reports
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A Pierced and tattooed skinhead; a ruby-lipped glamour-chick in elbow-length evening gloves; a busty supervamp. This is no ordinary beauty contest. And these girls don't just like travelling and meeting people. Cited among the contestants' various hobbies are eco-terrorism and boxing. Welcome to "The World's First Lesbian Beauty Contest", taking place this month at London's Cafe de Paris. This new event will demand both brains and beauty of its entrants and will be judged by specially selected celebrity judges, all of whom will be women.

The contest is organised by Amy Lame, club hostess to Duckie, a mixed gay cabaret night in south London. The pageant is her baby and she believes it's long overdue. "Lesbians don't get much chance to feel special," she says. "Either we're meant to be sex mad babes with silicone tits and no brains or we're supposed to be sad spinsters who are too ugly to get a man. There's absolutely no middle ground. The contest will be for real women, real lesbians, and will celebrate our diversity. Women can have a laugh, dress up and be as glamorous as they like."

Amy's feel-good philosophy challenges lesbian stereotypes from all quarters and she isn't afraid to embrace glamour with both diamante-ringed hands. She's aware that some women might take exception to her idea and that she might ruffle as well as preen the feathers of the lesbian community. After all, wasn't the Miss World competition targeted by pioneering feminists in the early Seventies? Didn't they drape the winning sash around a live sheep to make a point?

"I think you can be judgemental," Amy agrees, "and those competitions are an objectification of women's bodies by straight men, the media and all of that. But I wanted to take the good points of beauty contests, their celebration of glamour and womanliness, and inject it all with some fun, taking away that serious ultra-competitive edge. I want to turn it on it's head. I'm saying, look, yes, we are lesbians. We do love other women. We do enjoy looking at other women's bodies - whatever they look like. It doesn't have to be the 36-26-36, classic look. All different types of women love and are loved."

Of the women who answered Amy's nationwide appeal in the gay press, 12 have been selected to take part on the night. There's also a holiday to Ibiza in the offing to tempt the hopeful entrants. They have all had to fill in an extensive questionnaire detailing their vital statistics, hobbies and pastimes, admit the things they like most and like least about themselves and cite who they would like to be marooned with on a desert island. Each contestant is also asked if she can perform a party trick as well as how she would use her status as Miss Lesbian Beauty to further the lesbian cause worldwide.

Lorraine, 36-28-38, from Kent, would like to be marooned with the journalist Bea Campbell, but warns that one of her faults is "being a bit too open at first meetings". Thirty-year-old Elaine, meanwhile, is more laid back and describes flamenco as her greatest passion. She's an expert clicker of the castanets and has gone for a gothic look in her entry photograph, posed in a cathedral setting. While Ned from Kent, the eco-terrorist mentioned above, would take her little sister on the desert island, "because she's growing up so fast and I don't see enough of her".

The girls lined up for the event certainly seem to fit Amy's drive to reflect diversity and she's hoping that more chubby lesbians will come forward as well as thin lesbians, so that a whole range of body shape and size is reflected. She enjoys the tale of one real-life beauty pageant winner, who, having won her title, started to seriously eat. So much so that the twice-the-size winner was asked to relinquish her crown by the disapproving judges.

Dethroning is the ultimate final judgement for errant beauty queens, as was witnessed when Vanessa Williams, the first black Miss America, was dethroned after Penthouse ran photos of her in a nude lesbian embrace. Amy's contest throws the doors open to all the girls who might break the formulaic rule. "We're not saying you have to look a certain way. It's not about having model looks. It's about having self-confidence and saying, 'Look at me. I'm sexy.'"

In part, Amy sees the contest as a necessary tonic to the gay male counterpart to her competition, Mr Gay UK. This long-established parade of beefcake has long celebrated the oily pectoral and the bulging thong, encouraging "Readers Husbands" to bare their all. "The boys have always cornered that kind of thing, but it's so tacky. It's all about big dicks and no brains. So I wanted to do something that was a traditional beauty contest with a really wide range of women."

This will include the whole process of lining up in swimsuit, day wear and evening gown, the crucial interview and, of course, the final crowning ceremony, with tiara and fur-collared gown. "Traditional" it may be, but in these hands, the event sure looks to play a merry tune in the post- feminist zeitgeist. Watch out for Miss Lesbian Beauty 1997. She might be opening a supermarket near you.

The World's First Lesbian Beauty Contest will take place on Monday 30 June at the Cafe de Paris, London W1, from 8pm-3am. For tickets and information, call 0171-737 4043.

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