Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)
Tuesday,18 June, 2019
Issue 1229, (15 -21 January 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Overweight, and beautiful

For the second year running, a beauty contest with a difference is drawing entrants who dream of being chosen Miss Bakaboza, writes Omneya Yousry

Al-Ahram Weekly

Worried that piling on a few extra pounds might damage your chances of becoming Miss Egypt? Fear not, we’ve found a beauty contest designed especially for larger ladies.

Launched by fashion designer Marwa Al-Said, Miss Bakaboza (Miss Overweight) is a beauty pageant for plus-size women. Its slogan is: “I am overweight, but I am sexy.” Al-Said says the idea for the pageant came to her after she was the victim of a botched weight-loss surgery. She had taken the drastic decision to undergo surgery after pressure from her ex-fiancé and peers.

Al-Said fell into a coma for 21 days and was close to death. When she had her life back, she decided not to let anybody control her again. One of her resolutions was to start a beauty pageant for overweight women, Miss Bakaboza.

Two weeks ago, 20 curvaceous Egyptian women were selected from 100 entrants to participate in the 2015 Miss Bakaboza contest. Only ten of the contestants will be judged by the public. Those taking part should have high self-esteem, be dedicated to the pageant and have talents or hobbies.

The weight of the participating women is anything from 80 to 120 kg. Entrants must be between the ages of 18 and 30 years, and no shorter than 155 cm. This year the jury has added the condition that contestants must be single and have the approval of their parents.

“This condition was made after serious problems last year with the contestants’ husbands. We had three withdrawals as a result of fights with fiancés. In general, Egyptian men don’t accept the publication of their wives’ photographs on the Internet or in the media,” Al-Said said.

Mastering a second language and being well educated is also a must. They may be veiled or not, though the veil should not be put on or taken off after contestants have entered the contest.

“It started for amusement when I stopped by the Miss Bakaboza Facebook page. Then I found people took it seriously, and I started to get more and more likes for my photograph,” said Rehab Gamal, one of the pageant contestants.

Gamal explained that her parents and fiancé had been very supportive and open-minded about her interest in the pageant. “My experience is totally different from Al-Said’s. My fiancé used to encourage me to lose weight, but out of love and for my own benefit and nothing more,” she said.

Gamal applauded the idea because it was the first time somebody had encouraged her and not preached at her. “We are not a joke that people can laugh at every time they see us,” Gamal said of overweight women in Egyptian society. The community tends to look at overweight women in a negative way, she said, even making fun of them in the street.

Today, if any woman can stand in front of a mirror and proudly feel like Miss Bakaboza she can send two recent full-body photographs and a two-minute video introducing herself to the Miss Bakaboza Facebook page. The winner is then chosen according to a Facebook poll and call-in votes.

She will also have the opportunity to work as a model with Al-Said, who has now rejoined the fashion world. “I had been working in a cosmetics centre but always behind the scenes. I was even forbidden from appearing in front of customers. Imagine how this could destroy one’s feelings,” Al-Said recalls. Today, she is much more confident, and has developed her own sense of style while undertaking fitness training.

In this year’s contest Al-Said offers contestants the chance to gain valuable experience working in décor and fashion design and as makeup artists. Best of all, the winning Miss Bakaboza will represent Egypt in Miss Bakaboza of the Arab World.

The question still remains why Egyptian women tend to put on weight so easily. Is it the Egyptian cuisine, is it genetics, is it the lack of exercise, or is it the fast food chains that have recently invaded Egypt? Whatever the answer to these questions might be, there is a need for people to be more tolerant.

A study conducted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) found that over 76 per cent of Egyptian women over the age of 15 are overweight, and 46 per cent of them are obese, making Egyptian women some of the fattest in the world. If you are an Egyptian woman, the chances are you have been fighting the battle of the bulge for your entire adult life.

Jennifer Livingston, a news anchor at the US ABC channel, was reprimanded for her overweight look in an email from a member of her audience. “I’m overweight. You can call me fat, even obese on the doctor’s chart. But I’m much more than a number on a scale,” she said.

What really angered her was the high number of emails overweight women like her can receive. “The Internet has become a weapon, our schools have become fertile ground, and this behaviour is learned,” she said.

“It’s passed down from people like the man who wrote me the email complaining I was fat. If you are at home and you are talking about the fat news lady, guess what, your children are probably going to go to school and call someone fat as well. Isn’t that community responsibility too?” she asked.

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