Pageant Strives to Open Door for All Cambodian Women

This weekend Cambodia will have its first-ever competition to select a representative to an international beauty pageant. So on Tuesday, 20 young women gave their most-winning smiles to a crowd gathered at the Sharaton Hotel, as they begin preparations for the Miss Tourism Inter­na­tional-Cambodia.

They had already been chosen from 300 hopefuls by representatives of Sapors modeling agency and the Lux cosmetics company on the basis of their looks, height and personality. Together they formed a dazzling spectacle as, each in a different colored traditional outfit, they walked on the stage in tight formation.

The event was an introduction to the hopefuls, who will compete on Dec 15 at the Hotel Inter-Continental. There, Cambodia’s first international beauty queen will be selected. The final night will feature contestants sporting evening wear, cocktail wear, cas­ual wear, traditional wear and, intriguingly, Cambodian swim wear.

The winner will participate in the international rounds of the contest in Kuala Lumpur at the end of this month and receive $1,000.

Sapor Rendall, director of Sapors, says the contest’s significance goes far beyond that of a sim­ple beauty pageant. “In Cam­bodia, women are traditionally not as respected as men,” she explained. “When you get married, you stay at home. But now, women are becoming freer and more confident, and this contest is a celebration of that.”

In addition, Rendall said, the Miss Tourism contest will promote Cambodia’s own tourism and will give women the opportunity to interact with the international and regional community.

“It will encourage women to look after themselves,” she said.

There have been several events styled on the beauty pa­geant formula in Cambodia in recent years, including the TV3-sponsored Miss Cambodia and the Miss Cambodian New Year contest. But all were very much local events, and were frequently restricted or even canceled due to lack of resources.

Cambodia has been represented at Miss Tourism International in Malaysia for the past two years, but this is the first time the nation’s aesthetic ambassador has been selected in a pageant at home—past entrants were simply chosen by the modeling agency from the young women on their books. This year the event was advertised nationwide.

By opening up the event to the public, Rendall said, the contest has attracted a very diverse group of women. “I was very surprised to see 300 girls turn up,” she said.

One of the most important qual­ities the judges will be looking for Sunday is confidence. Many of the women were initially very shy and not used to interacting with strangers, Rendall said. But during the two weeks since being selected, each aspiring apsara has been meticulously drilled in deportment and self-presentation.

The results spoke for themselves, as the 20 women catwalked onto the stage, stepped forward and calmly introduced themselves to the crowd.


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