•Not every lady who wears crown is a beauty queen —Ibinabo
•Reigning queens get carried away with euphoria of the crown—Olori Ronke Ogunwusi
By Benjamin Njoku
One of the memorable moments of yesteryears that would remain indelible in the minds of many Nigerians for a long time was the crowning of Miss Nigeria beauty pageant powered by the old Daily Times of Nigeria.
Then, people looked forward to the pageant every year with high expectations. And on the grand finale, they would get glued to their TV screens to behold the emergence of a brand new beauty queen. Many believed that pageantry helped to unite Nigerians more than sports did in the past.
And that was the extent millions of Nigerians adored and worshiped beauty pageants back in the days.
Perhaps, it was more of a national honour than a mere beauty pageant as the country would stand still while the new queen emerged in her blaze of glory.
Apart from the crown, the queen also walked away with lots of juicy offers, including car gift, cash prize and sponsorship deals and representing Nigeria at the Miss World beauty pageant.
While her reign lasted, the queen would walk with her head high, commanding a lot of respect and influence at home and beyond.
Gone are the days when beauty pageants were strongly regarded as platforms that showcased the true beauty and intelligence of the Nigerian girl.
The beauty pageants, from time immemorial, represented the pride of the nation.
Back in time, these beauty queens walked around with so much pride and dignity. Their faces were spotted all over the major cities of the country, adorning billboards and calendars and featured in many TV commercials.
The queens were brand ambassadors for the country and were put on a high pedestal.
Every young lady worth her salt then wanted to be like the ex-beauty queens, Oluchi Onwewagba and Agbani Darego.
It’s still fresh in our memories when the likes of Munachi Abii, winner of the Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria, MBGN, 2007, delved into modeling and became the face of a multinational Unilever for one of its products, Lux Soap, following in the footsteps of Lilian Bach, who once contested for MNGN pageant and featured in several TV commercials, becoming the face of Delta medicated soap.
Also, ex-beauty queen Sandra Okagbue, highlife singer Flavour’s baby mama, was also hot at a time when she won Miss Delta Soap pageant and modeled for Orange Drugs, the organizers of the pageant, alongside Princess Kelechi Oghene, who became a designer in 2017.
The same goes to ex-beauty queen, Elizabeth Ibidunni Ighodale, who was the first face of Lux soap. The list is endless.
To many, that was the heyday of beauty pageants in Nigeria.
But the story has changed with the passage of time.
Present day beauty pageants is rarely seen adorning billboards at strategic places across the country or feature in TV commercials as it was the case in the past. Instead, we now have dazzling actresses and other celebrities as brand influencers, adorning bill boards and featuring in TV commercials to the detriment of these beauty queens.
These actresses also use their social media platforms like Instagram, Tit-tok, Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) among others as marketplaces to promote and sell products of varied brands that endorse them as ambassadors while beauty queens are visibly missing in action, completely lost in this age of digital revolution.
The ugly trend is said to be seriously undermining the place of prestige and honour that came with the crown and office of a beauty queen in the past.
More so, the glamour and glitz have waned with the passage of time even as the popularity of some of the former beauty queens faded into oblivion as soon as they relinquished their crowns.
Some of them got married in the process and relocated abroad with their spouses, dumping their passion and the crown.
For anything, Nigerians would not forget in a hurry the history made by Oluchi when she became the African face in 1997, putting the country on the world map of beauty queens.
Just as Agbani Darego shot into limelight at the maiden edition of M-net Face of Africa, shattering records by becoming the first African to win the Miss World title in 2001.
These two Amazons became instant reference points and international figures as well as role models to many young girls.
Unfortunately, since these ex-beauty queens relinquished their crowns, nobody has been able to step into their big shoes or beat their records.
It’s so bad that celebrities are systematically diminishing the status of the crown, having taken over its exalted space and utilizing it to their own advantage.
For instance, last year, actress Adesua Etomi-Wellington was appointed brand ambassador of Siri soap, owned by Aspira Nigeria Limited just as curvy actress, Destiny Etiko, topped the charts of actresses that bagged the highest endorsement deals between 2021 and 2023.
What of the likes of reality TV star, Mercy Eke, Bayelsa State-born Nengi and Nancy Isime who are currently blazing the trail.
Following this unexpected turn of events, former beauty queen, and founder of Miss Earth Beauty Pageant, Ibinabo Fiberesima, believed that not every lady who wears the crown and sash is a beauty queen.
Ibinabo admitted that pageantry has fallen off the radar in appeal simply because, “ it does not fulfill the requirements of the world’s present norms of what is ‘interesting’ and beauty queens are not measuring up to the extant standards.”
She said she had watched the slide for years, having tried to stem the tide but to no avail. As she puts it, “it’s a child’s battle against a behemoth as it is”.
Her words: “I don’t see the current loss in charm changing unless the pageants decide to join the bandwagon and if that happens then it most definitely won’t be pageantry anymore as its elitist ideal of nobility would be lost forever.”
Asked why beauty queens are losing their charms, Ibinabo echoed, “It’s because of the fact that what many view as charm is repugnant to others.”
She continued: “We are in a world where you cannot pass messages, whether in song, drama or the written word, without accompanying it with something salacious and, considering the rigid rules pageantry is bound with, it’s a losing battle against a demanding and dwindling audience”, she stressed.
“Who wants to hear your message of world peace when you’re not telling it with your bosoms flashing at the cameras or twerking your rump in a frenzy on social media?
“Now you’d say that pageants are exhibitionist with the swim suits et al, but then a lot of people don’t understand that part of the competition.
“The swim suits are not to feast your eyes on semi-nudity, no.
“Pageants don’t just grade you based on intelligence and facial beauty, the swim suits help judges check out for bodily blemish, form and figure. So there is a purpose to that madness”.
Lack of patronage
The ex-beauty queen, however, cited lack of patronage and sponsorship as the bane of the present day beauty pageants.
She stressed that past beauty queens enjoyed the limelight, while it lasted and sponsorship which was a big deal then compared to the present day beauty pageants.
“Recent events have shown that beauty pageants no longer enjoy the patronage it used to”, Ibinabo said.
She added: “A lot of pageants are suffering and can barely make it through their pre-pageant stage to the grand finale itself, let alone put together a year long package for winners.
“Car gifts have dwindled and even acceptable monetary gifts are a rarity. Personally, I sponsor my winners to the Philippines every year, from my own pocket and without assistance from anyone.”
On why pageants are no longer the darlings of corporate bodies, Ibinbo noted that pageantry is not an immediate financially viable endeavour for investors.
“What I mean is that first it does not strictly ensure you gain ten million naira for ten million naira invested in terms of return on investment,” she stated.
“The rewards are largely intangible and long term, for example, an exposure for the brands and marketing advantages.
“Thus in this clime of economic downturn you really cannot hold a grudge against any individual or corporation who decides to seek other instant rewarding initiatives like reality shows for instance, which boasts the widest audience, more money and, of course, unlimited spicy entertainment”.
The former beauty queen also mentioned changes in worldview of pageants as another reason in addition to people losing interest in pageantry as a non-viable venture.
“I’ve tried to draw crowds to my pageant, but a lot of people just aren’t interested”, she said.
“I have personally tried to slightly alter the serene ambiance of pageant finales to inspire crowds to no avail.
“I’m now at the periphery of altogether turning the event to a full blown music show littered with reigning A-list musicians to pack up a hall.
“A packed hall is revenue by the way in terms of ticket sales. Then of course, there is social media. Everything now is determined by followership, the large size or otherwise. “This is the era of super influencers who draw millions of followers with creative skits.
“This era is not interested in the puritan projects of a beauty queen who is bound by the ethics of the pageantry, who is not willing to ‘show something’ on a quotidian basis or just twerk that thing for our viewing pleasure.
“A queen is not permitted to engage in such overt attempts to garner followership for instance, including actions likely to bring the pageant brand into disrepute.
“Thus, if you’re not willing to pander to the norm, which is to do the absolutely ridiculous, no one is going to pay attention to you. If no one pays attention to you, then which audience are you projecting your humanitarian projects to?
“This is the reality. A lot of queens have also been asked to compromise with ‘lecherous benefactors’ who aim to degrade them first in order to help boost their campaigns. But like I said, pageantry is led by rules and not scandals and while this is not applicable to all pageants especially the mushroom ones, any pageant worth its salt will resist such an obscene treatment of its queen, the representative of its brand”
On the other hand, the queen of Ooni of Ife, Olori Aderonke Ademiluyi-Ogunwusi, who’s the founder of Queen Moremi Cultural and Leadership pageant in Ile-Ife, blamed beauty queens for their woes.
She remarked that most of these queens are carried away with the crown instead of planning on how to remain relevant after their reigns.
Her words: “Reigning queens get carried away with the euphoria of the crown”, she stated.
“They should engage themselves with something meaningful.
“And when their tenure expires, they cannot do anything because there is no continuity for them.
“If you are crowned as a beauty queen or cultural queen and you have something you are doing, after you reign, obviously you will continue with it. I think a lot of them are so relaxed in that position and don’t remember they have to stay relevant in the scheme of things.
“Sometimes, they’d get carried away with all the glitz and glamour associated with the crown without remembering that it’s just for one year”.
The Ile Ife queen regretted that most beauty queens hardly think of how to sustain the tempo after their reign.
Ogunwusi pointed out that not empowering these beauty queens to enable them set up their own businesses, or mentoring them to greatness help to sustain their journey.
“For me, some of these beauty queens are not leveraging the opportunities given to them through these platforms to grow their own skills. So that whatever they started during their reign they should continue it,” Olori added.
She dismissed the insinuations that the media has not been spotlighting the queens, saying, “They should leverage on other other platforms like Instagram, Facebook ,TikTok to promote whatever they are doing without relying on the mainstream media.
“They need to step out of the box and engage in things that will draw the attention of the media to them.”
Meanwhile, the perception today is that these beauty queens have nothing more than their beauty to offer to the world.
And that’s why after their reigns, they quickly journey into oblivion because they rarely combined their enchanting beauties with skills. Besides, many are of the opinion that the pageants are known to be warming the beds of the few rich people in society while their one year fame lasts, after which nothing is heard about them anymore.
But in whichever way you want to look at it, one is certain that in this part of the world, beauty pageants are steadily losing their exclusivity, charm and prestige. This is attributable not only because of the many mushroom contests springing up in drives in recent times, but also, the fact that pageant has gone beyond wearing the crown and catwalking. It’s also about reinventing oneself and keeping your eyes on the goal.