It’s been said that the most beautiful women in the world reside in Thailand. This claim might elicit protests from down Rio way, but it’s generally agreed that Thai women are among the most beautiful and sensuous women on the planet. In any case, there’s no doubt that the country has more beauty pageants than anyone else, but for our purposes we will focus on four that each celebrate beauty in its own, entirely different, way: Miss Thailand World, Miss Jumbo Queen, Miss Tiffany Universe and Miss Spinster.

Miss Thailand World 2003 Jenjira “Mix” Kerdprasop definitely breaks the mould. At the suggestion of a friend of her Thai family, while visiting Thailand last year, the 23-year-old luk krung entered the contest as a lark. She’d never entered a beauty contest before, although she had internationally represented both of her native countries, Sweden and Thailand, in archery. With her feet planted firmly on the ground, fame has done nothing to diminish the earthiness and integrity of this young gal. An athlete who wasn’t used to dressing up, even to wearing high heels, she’s had to become a lot more conscious of her appearance. She’s also had to slim down, since when she entered the contest she weighed 63 kilos. On the night of the competition, however, she weighed in at 54 kilos.


Miss Thailand

                       Miss Thailand World, Jenjira "Mix" Kerdprasop  

Four hundred girls entered the competition. After a series of initial interviews, the list was whittled down to 56 and then, eventually, to 18 finalists. They lived together for two weeks at the Sofitel Lad Phrao before the competition began. In the competition itself, Jenjira was judged in three categories: business wear, sportswear and the evening gown competition. She came out on top, winning 1 million baht, a Toyota Camara (even though she didn’t have her driver’s license at the time), the crown (worth 800,000 baht), acting lessons and free spa privileges for a year. Not only all that, but, the night she won, her mom was in the audience celebrating her 50th birthday. (By the way, her parents had met 25 years ago when her dad, a professional bowler, was touring Thailand).

After her win, she went on last December to represent Thailand at the Miss World Contest in Sanya, China, which was won by Miss Ireland. The pageant has been going for 54 years, and claims a global viewing audience of two billion people. This contest’s theme is “Beauty with Intelligence”, and its contestants are scrutinized not just for their appearance but their intelligence and personality as well.

A year ago Jenjira was working in a small Thai restaurant in Finspang, Sweden. Now she’s a celebrity. She is beautiful, of course. But it’s her personality, including her sense of humour, that sets her apart. She stole the judges’ hearts when she was asked what she would do if she met the Chinese pandas staying in the Chiang Mai Zoo. I don’t know if the pandas speak Thai or English,” she told them, “but I think I would just sit down and hug them.”

This year’s Miss Jumbo Queen pageant featured 20 finalists, and the contest were staged at the Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo, which was fitting, since a whole lot of stomping went on. Rosukhon Oransethakul, the student who became famous last year when Mahidol University’s Nursing School came close to rejecting her because of her weight, was one of the contestants in this year’s pageant. She slimmed from 96 to 82 kilos, and proved that she liked to sing and dance during the competition. But this year’s winner was Artapapat Boonnarong, weighing in at 95 kilos, who was judged to have the grace, elegance and size most closely resembling an that of an elephant (seen below patting the elephant's trunk).

Miss Jumbo

Contestants have to run a minimum of 80 kilos. Established in 1997, the pageant is designed to highlight the plight of Thailand's diminishing numbers of wild elephants. At the end of the event, a jumbo banquet for elephants is staged by the organizers to honour these animals for their help in promoting tourism in Nakhon Pathom Province.

The Miss Jumbo Queen winner takes home 50,000 baht. First runner-up, this year, was Surassamee Holaputra, a ground hostess for TAGS, while second runner-up was Piyacha Chaiwooti, who owns the Pad San cattle farm. The Miss Photogenic Award went to Yotala Julobon, who has a Master’s in Public Relations from Cambridge University. The Mahout’s Favourite Award went to Jiraporn Kabilsing, who owns a FIFA x-game shop near Bangkok University. Miss Popular (elected by SMS) was Nutthida Wongsomboon, executive coordinator for the Excidy Friction Material Co., Ltd. And this year, Miss Jumbo Supermodel, the award for the heaviest contestant, went to Pichit native Bangon Waiyawong. The beauty-shop owner tipped the scales at 168 kilos. The record holder in the weight category is 191-kilo Lilitta Songkraj, dubbed Miss Jumbo World Cup in 2002.

If you’ve been in Thailand for any length of time, you’ve probably mistaken a man for a woman more than once. Indeed, that may have led to embarrassing situations, best not delved into here. The reality is that many Thai transvestites can pass for beautiful women. To celebrate that fact, in 1998 the Tiffany Show, the first transvestite cabaret show in Southeast Asia, organized the Miss Tiffany Universe contest to coincide with the Amazing Thailand promotion. Before that, Tiffany’s, which has been in business for 30 years, held its own private pageant for its showgirls.


Miss Katoey

                       Miss Tiffany Universe

Some classic katoey traits include the exaggerated wiggle, the Adam’s apple and the flashing of breasts (Thai women won’t do that). Many also have a reputation for being overly aggressive, but Alisa Phanthusak, Tiffany’s assistant managing director, says Tiffany’s showgirls aren’t like that. Surprisingly only about 10 percent of the showgirls have had sex changes, and neither Miss Tiffany Universe 2004 nor her runner-up have had any surgery at all.

This year’s Miss Tiffany Universe had 53 entrants. The winner was Khun Treechada “Poy” Petcharat, who hails from Phuket Town, and is a 19-year-old engineering student at Ratchapat Suan Dusit College in Bangkok.

In the past, Korean and Japanese showgirls have also competed in the Miss Tiffany contest. This October, however, Miss Tiffany will stage its own Miss International Queen contest — the first world transvestite beauty contest to be held in Thailand — and foreign contestants from over 40 countries will compete against the best of Miss Tiffany’s beauties.

Los Angeles holds Miss Queen of the Universe, a similar contest, every year. Ms Pattriya Sirignarmwongse, Thailand’s Miss Tiffany Universe, won the event in 1999. Thailand’s Miss Tiffany Universe for 2000, Ms Chanya Moranon, has also won the LA pageant, as has Miss Tiffany Universe for 2002, Tanya Anyasiri. Khun Alisa says that for some reason the most beautiful Miss Tiffanys come from Chiang Mai. The idea for the contest originated when her family, the Phanthusaks, who have run the Tiffany cabaret show for 30 years, wanted to give something back to the gay community.

Last year also saw the launch of another competition. Miss Spinster ("Miss Khanthong", seen below) was designed for single career women, and the winner was 37-year-old Saowapa Thephasadin na Ayudhaya, a private entrepreneur with a knack for sign language. Runners-up included Kulthida Thammavipat, a college professor, and Natthinee Pittayapipathul, a former member of the national volleyball team. One of Prime Minister Thaksin’s nieces also competed. The contest, for women aged 28 or over, saw 128 entrants, all of them university graduates, with a 51 year-old being the eldest applicant. This list was eventually narrowed to 21 participants, who participated in short dress, evening gown and sportswear competitions.

 Miss Spinster

Saowapa, who also won the Miss Personality Award, dedicated her reign to helping Thailand's deaf. She graduated from Srinakarin University with a degree in Thai, and taught at the Satree Woranart School. She became interested in helping the deaf, and started to assist at the Foundation for the Deaf in Thailand because she felt their disability was much harder to detect than others, making it that much harder to understand.

Saowapa won 50,000 baht as well as her trophy and a crown worth another 30,000 baht, which she will hold for the year — as long as she stays single. Upon winning, she was quoted as saying, “I want to create the right understanding about being single. It’s not at all a matter of having an inferiority complex. It just shows you are self-reliant and can support your family.” Miss “Kanthong” is derived from khuen khan, which in Thai means “boxer on the beam”, or an aging boxer unable to find any more opponents. Thus, Miss Kanthong evolved as a spinster unable to find a male mate. But Saowapa wants to change that image, saying that many “spinsters” are actually talented, attractive career women who don’t have depend on a man for their happiness. Despite her cherished independence, however, Miss Kanthong says that, if she finds the right man, she’s ready to jump into marriage.

Beauty comes in all shapes, sizes and forms. Thailand will undoubtedly continue providing runways and platforms for that beauty to be judged, honoured and just plain ogled. Maybe we should consider a Mr Bachelor, a Mr Thailand and a Mr Farang competition, as well.

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