Beauty pageant keeps stealing the U.N.'s style

By Amy Lieberman   |   May 14, 2013 at 5:14 PM   |   Comments

{WOMENSENEWS}--Erin Morgart, a model, fitness trainer and married mother of two who lives in Virginia Beach, Va., has about two months to go before the United Nation International Pageant kicks off in Cancun, Mexico.

But for the contestant -- who is last year's holder of the Mrs. United Nation USA title –preparations are in full swing, which means in addition to maintaining a top physical and emotional state, she is reading up on the workings of the United Nations.

"They probably would not ask about the United Nations during the interview process," says Morgart, referring to the contestant officials. "But you have to be prepared, just like you would be for any kind of bodybuilding competition, to make sure that you are physically at your weight, emotionally and mentally prepared for everything."

As is also the case at the U.N. headquarters, where political progress and setbacks are guided by the art of diplomacy, country representation is equally key at the U.N. pageant, Morgart says.

"It helps if you can speak other languages," says Morgart, who knows French, Italian and Latin. "It's about why do you see yourself as a good representative for your country, for the U.S., and how could you help bring tourism there?"

Despite the pageant's name and special prep, however, the United Nations is not actually connected to the event. In fact, the United Nations wishes the marketing company that runs the event would stop using the U.N. name and emblem.

"We've asked them to cease and desist," U.N. spokesperson Farhan Haq told Women's eNews in a terse e-mail response.

Six Categories of Contestant

But the event continues for its third year, with contestants competing in six categories for men, women and teens.

A Miss Teen United Nation contestant must be between 13 and 19 and single. A Mrs. United Nation must be over the age of 21 and married to a naturally born genetic male, as the pageant's site describes. And Mr. United Nation must be over 19, but may be married, divorced or single.

Contestants, ranging in age from 16 to mid-40s, will be judged on beauty and fitness and will don different outfits: business attire, fashion wear, athletic wear and national traditional dress. Although the pageant eschews the swimsuit contest, Morgart says physical appearance is weighed heavily.

The contestants are also judged on their interactions with other delegates and with the general public, says Soyini Fraser. A native of Guyana who in 2012 was awarded the prize of Miss Teen United Nation, Fraser adds that those points earned are incorporated into the interview segment, which constitutes 50 percent of a contestant's scoring.

When Fraser was crowned last year, she also won $10,000, and has since received free trips outside her country as a Miss Teen United Nation representative. Her new title has helped her and team of collaborators start a charity that supports hard-pressed children's organizations in rural Guyana.

The pageant refers to contestants as ambassadors, a title that is intended to follow them long after the three-day pageant concludes, says co-founder L.N. Williams, who would like to see the event send winners back to their communities and use the power of their crowns to do good.

"We want everybody to become ambassadors to make a difference in a humanitarian capacity, to reach out to people to those less fortunate, to take charge in creating changes and making an impact in other people's lives," Williams said in a phone interview.

As in most pageants, contestants pay to enter. Morgart says preparation fees can stack up to a few thousand dollars for a typical pageant.

Contestants Unable to Compete

As at the United Nations, where full participation in the Security Council and General Assembly is restricted by politics and global powers, not all hopeful contestants have the chance to compete.

"For the Miami pageant last year we had close to 80 delegates but securing a visa was a big issue for a lot of contestants, especially from African and Asian countries, so we had to cut the number of delegates to 60 from 80," Williams says.

Tania Gonzalez-Teran, 40, won the title of Mrs. United Nation last year, representing Cuba. A model, sales representative and a regular pageant attendee, Gonzalez-Teran says this pageant was a little bit different from the others. For one thing, it's open to slightly older women, she says.

"When you are a 'Miss' it seems to be much easier. You have more confidence. And as you get older you are more aware of everything happening to your body, your flaws. Your body is not the same, because you are not the same girl you used to be," says Gonzalez-Teran. "But that becomes an even bigger challenge and motivates you to be even better."

Since the contest also looks at entrants' community involvement, Gonzalez-Teran, born in Cuba but raised mostly in Miami, brushed up on her Spanish in anticipation of the pageant. She readied to answer questions about her native country--which did not have representation from a contestant now living there--and also amped up her community work, organizing local events, like walkathons, that reached out to potential victims of domestic violence.

"It's about championing positive things that need to be spoken about," she says. "It's not just about a pretty face or a pretty girl. You can use the crown to try to come together and try to help each other because at the end of the day we are all human. I think that is what the U.N. stands for, right?"

The United Nations pageants in Mexico starts July 5 and runs through July 8.

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