7.28.2013

Miss Iceland Gets a Chilly Reception From Feminists



People of All Ages, Including a Few Men, Enter Contest as a Protest

by ELLEN EMMERENTZE JERVELL


REYKJAVIK, Iceland—In early July, eight women wearing sweaters began their week by filing into a sunlit meeting room in Iceland's cozy capital to hatch a scheme.
The objective: Put Miss Iceland to death.
The women, including a 48-year-old pastor and an author in her early 30s, don't actually want to harm the reigning 5-foot-9 beauty queen crowned in 2011. Instead, they dream of ending a competition that has endured for nearly half a century and helped put this Nordic island nation of 315,000 people on the map.
"Our goal must be to kill it," Asa Richardsdottir, 49-year-old producer in the fine arts industry, said between sips of coffee. Matthildur Helgadottir-Jonudottir, an event manager also in her 40s, nodded in agreement. "Yes," she said in a loud voice.
As a form of protest, the eight women applied to enter the beauty contest.
The unusual development stems from a rather unclear statement made by the new chief executive of the Miss Iceland contest, Rafn Rafnsson, in hopes of diversifying the field of contestants beyond the statuesque blonde with striking blue eyes that has become the Icelandic stereotype. "There is no Miss Iceland stereotype," said Mr. Rafnsson, a longtime cameraman and television producer.Following years of hullabaloo over whether the small country actually needs beauty contests, feminists are freshly emboldened because scores of Icelanders who don't exactly fit the beauty queen mold signed up for the 2013 event slated for September, generating a wave of local media attention.
After Mr. Rafnsson's statement, the floodgates opened. Women of all ages, including a prominent member of the nation's Parliament and an 80-year-old pensioner, applied to enter the contest and even a handful of men took the plunge. Within a week, 1,300 people raised their hands to strut their stuff.
"I'm doing this to illustrate how pointless they are," Sigridur Gudmarsdottir, 48, a minister in Reykjavik, said after signing on to compete shortly after registration opened in June. While viewing her participation as nothing but a joke, she said she hopes the ploy "poses the question of what beauty really is."
When Reynir Sigurdbjornsson, 47, a male electrician, signed up online, he was disappointed that there wasn't a button to select sex. "This competition is discriminating [against] men," he said.
But Mr. Rafnsson is in a bit of a jam because he ultimately wants to send a viable contestant from Miss Iceland to compete in Miss World in 2014.Some might consider the outpouring of interest is a boon for Mr. Rafnsson as he prepares to run his inaugural show. In 2012, Miss Iceland—known locally as Ungfrú Ísland—didn't even take place, because, the organizers say, they "didn't have time." Now, the nation is at least talking about the event.
"We have to follow the rules set by the international contest," he said while sitting in a spartan office on the outskirts of Reykjavik.
That means rejecting any applicants younger than 18 or older than 24. In addition to the age limits, contestants must be unmarried, childless and, of course, female.
Mr. Rafnsson is now stuck trying to put a pretty face on what remains an exclusive engagement. "It's good that people show interest; they are free to interpret what they want about the contest," he said.
But that spin hasn't stopped the backlash.
"Who cares what he meant?" Brynhildur Heidardottir Omarsdottir, a literary critic who also signed up for the event, said. In her opinion, Mr. Rafnsson has given feminists the stage they need to disparage the event for objectifying women and promoting a narrow stereotype of the ideal female.

Iris Telma Jonsdottir
Iris Telma Jonsdottir, Iceland's contestant in the 2012 Miss World event, isn't amused. "They're wrong, they know nothing about this," the 22-year-old beauty queen said.
Miss Jonsdottir has the unfortunate job of sifting through applications for the coming Miss Iceland contest and the publicity stirred by feminists has even sparked an abnormally high influx of legitimate hopefuls. That means she has a lot more reading to do before selecting the field of 25 women who will actually compete for a chance to move on to Miss World.
Even without this year's antics, Iceland's history with beauty pageants has had its moments.
In the 1970s, a cow was stolen from a nearby farm and paraded by opponents of the contest through the hotel where the Miss Iceland competition was held. The animal was wearing a ribbon.
A decade later, female members of Reykjavik's city council staged a protest by showing up for a council meeting wearing ballroom dresses and homemade crowns.
More recently, the Miss Iceland contest took heat after contestant contracts were published. The pacts, now abandoned, provided that participants weren't to get pregnant, become mentally ill or to gain weight for the three years following the event.
One of the most ambitious salvos against Miss Iceland came in 2007, when Ms. Helgadottir-Jonudottir created Untamed Beauty, an alternative beauty contest where everyone was given a prize.
"At my competition, the criteria of beauty were stretch marks and saggy boobs," she said while sitting with her friends in early July.
Ms. Omarsdottir, one of Ms. Helgadottir-Jonudottir's peers, isn't deterred by being barred from the 2013 Miss Iceland contest because of her age. During the conversation in the meeting room, she said the group's next salvo against the contest could be a parody video set to the old Tina Turner hit "Simply the Best," that would go viral.
Ms. Richardsdottir, the producer, said she had already purchased the "fruisland.is" domain name, or "mrsiceland.is." At the least, the group should launch an online protest, she said.
Brynhildur Bjornsdottir returns to the Tina Turner parody idea: "We are simply the best, naa naa naa," she sang.
Ms. Omarsdottir held up her arms and started dancing in her seat. "I think a video with some women like us singing and shaking some booty would be just perfect."

SOURCE: Wall Street Journal, 7/26/2013

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