Mississauga, Ont. –– Seven South Asian finalists channeled their inner Tyra Banks, smiling with their eyes at a photo-shoot today, gearing up for the 7th annual Miss Pakistan World pageant next weekend.
“Compared to Toronto pageants, I’m pretty sure we have the most well-known pageant, only because of the negativity or the controversy,” says president Sonia Ahmed. For many conservatives, “Muslim model” is an oxymoron.
The swimsuit component of Miss Pakistan World has been replaced with a pool-side photo shoot in tank tops and shorts. “There are people who don’t like it,” Ahmed says. Contestants wear a traditional bridal gown and two evening gowns, and showcase their talent.
Since the early ’90s, Canadian supermodel Yasmeen Ghauri has made headlines, turning heads on the conventional runway and as a Victoria’s Secret Angel. Her father is a Muslim cleric from Pakistan.
“It’s a very male-dominated country,” says Ahmed. “These women are one of the few that are coming out and opening up society for Pakistani communities here in North America and Europe.”
Women from as far away as Scotland are competing, while others living in the Greater Toronto Area are also drawn in. Tahmena Bokhari, 29, the oldest contestant, is a social worker from Vaughan.
“I identify as a Muslim-Pakistani woman,” she says. “I’m a woman of colour in the Canadian context.” Bohkari hopes to use the competition as a platform for global awareness. On her to-do list: addressing violence against women and opening doors for women to become economically self-sufficient. She has the full support of her family, who will be there cheering her on.
Yusra Mumtaz, an 18-year-old student from Sugar Land, Texas, is excited about dancing to Pakistani music on-stage. “Ever since I was little, I’ve always wanted to do something like this,” says the youngest contestant. Her parents are also giving her the green light to compete. “They support me 100 per cent. They’re my little backbones,” Mumtaz says.
String bikini or not, there’s more focus on brains in this pageant. And that has one contestant applauding. “We’re so diverse,” Bokhari says. “I’m so proud to be part of this group of seven. Everybody’s so smart.”
Miss Pakistan World is on Saturday, June 27 in Mississauga.
[Article published in South Asian Outlook]