Christelle Mbeni, from the province of Bandundu, was crowned Miss Congo on 23 June 2012 during a ceremony at the Grand Hotel in Kinshasa. As she prepares to compete for Miss World in China in October, many young people in Kinshasa argue about whether the contest is laudable or detestable.
What do you think about the return of Miss Congo organised this year in the DRC for the first time since 1998? As soon as this question is asked on a street corner in Kinshasa, it arouses strong reactions.
“Just name me one country that has ever developed, or one company in the world that ever felt better – both psychologically and economically – by organising beauty contests. They just encourage licentious living,” says one passerby. “You really need to stop these kinds of competitions and instead send our daughters to school. Girls must learn that their bodies are not commodities or objects of pleasure!”
Evariste, another passerby, introduces himself as a young Christian and says: “These competitions are not worth the trouble and go against the word of God because the woman is exhibited as an object to lust after. What’s the point of investing all that money?”
Rosine and Joelle, two young students at the Academy of Fine Arts, are of a different opinion. Rosine thinks the competition is a worthy undertaking – and not only for the glamour. “The world is evolving and we must also evolve. A beauty contest has its advantages and we must recognise them. Candidates have the benefit of learning many things. It can be emancipating experience for them,” says Rosine.
But for JoÃ«le, the contest should not only be about judging physical beauty. “It must insist on intelligence. I am disappointed that many candidates do not even know how to speak. If the contest went beyond the physical aspects, it would have fuller meaning. The winner should be an ambassadors for the Congo who combines both beauty and brains.”
Yann, a student and young artist, also believes Miss Congo can work to inspire young women. “I’m sure that if a Miss is conscious of her role in society, she would work to set a good example. They should get involved in fighting for a cause.”
“In general, serious girls do not participate in such contests,” says Doris, a housewife. “A serious girl will not accept exposing her body as something people need to buy. The contest really looks like a bidding war, especially now that the public is being asked to vote by SMS.”
“Why not invest that money in the education of all women?” wonders Christopher. For this young worker, the organisers of such competitions are just “traders”. He also wonders what happened to all the former Miss Congos. “Where are these old glories? Their time ended as soon as the show ended. You only see them sometimes, in a few advertisements, and usually dressed poorly. So I do not see the Congolese woman coming out as a winner in this competition,” says Christopher.