Those were the glory days

2011-10-13 00:00

THE screening of a programme detailing the path of this year’s Miss South Africa hopefuls to the crowning of the winner in December, kicked off on TV last weekend. For at least two local women, it will bring back memories of when they reigned as local beauty queens.

While beauty competitors nowadays often have to justify entering such competitions in the face of criticism of what some see as the tacky exploitation of women in these events, old-timers like Constance Naidoo and Marjorie Peters say they were proud to represent their culture. It was a status symbol for their family to have a beautiful daughter.

Naidoo always had unusual looks, with wide eyes and pale skin, that made people look at her twice.

When people suggested that she enter a beauty pageant as a teenager, she didn’t take it seriously. But her sisters and her mother encouraged her.

So she decided to enter one pageant and see what would happen. She wore a gold-and-cream sari she had bought for a relative’s wedding, and a friend helped her style her hair. She was the youngest contestant at the age of 15, and she really didn’t think she would win.

But when her name was called as the winner, she was thrilled. “I was so surprised and I was really excited.” That early win was the start of her beauty career, and she entered a few beauty competitions after that, winning many local titles and even becoming the first Indian beauty queen to grace the front cover of The Natal Witness.

In those days, there were no multiracial beauty competitions, and the different races competed in their own categories. “I didn’t know anything different. In our day it was a pleasure to represent our culture and to be honoured as a beauty. We didn’t have to wear bathing costumes. We had to walk tall, wear our dresses proudly and answer questions.

“I always thought I had a bubbly personality, and that came through.” She does not think she would like to compete under the pressure of the competitions these days.

“I was just young and having fun. I did do a bit of modelling, but I never thought I would make money out of my looks. It was more of an opportunity to make your culture proud. I don’t think people were obsessed about looks like they are today.”

Her unusual looks often had people trying to guess where she came from — a few thought she was from Taiwan. But today, Naidoo says she doesn’t think about her looks much, “It was a fun time in my life, but we all get older.”

It was the same for ex The Witness advertising staffer Marjorie Peters (Moodley), who was also a beauty queen in her youth. She’s now retired. Her lovely sculpted cheekbones and refined features were a drawcard, and she twice won the Miss Azalea competition in the midlands region.

“We hardly won big prizes in those days. I did win cosmetics and a bit of furniture, but it was quite prestigious being a beauty queen — people thought it was a big deal in our community. I was trained in deportment by a woman who was an expert. It was important to act like a proper lady. We had to smile until our cheeks hurt.

“I liked the chance to dress up and look nice, but I am so glad I was not of the generation that had to walk around in a swimming costume. I would never have done that. I think women should have a certain dignity, especially in public.”

Peters never considered that she would make a living from the beauty business, it was just prestigious for her family who encouraged her to enter. “I guess I did learn to be confident in public and the prizes were nice.

“I think the competition is very stiff today, and I am not sure that it would be fun anymore. There is a lot more at stake.”

• The Road to Miss SA is on Mzansi Magic (DStv channel 107) on Sunday at 5.30 pm. •

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