Unlike average beauty pageant, which tends to conform to a strict lean-and-lithe standard, at annual ‘Miss Fat & Beautiful’ curves are queen
A group of women primp and preen in front of the mirrors, adjusting their outfits as they prepare for a beauty contest with a difference: Israel’s annual “Miss Fat & Beautiful.”
In a cultural center in the southern desert city of Beersheba, the contestants tweak their hair and apply makeup, laughing together as they sing in Hebrew: “We are the most beautiful women in the world. We are Miss World!”
To qualify for the contest, hopefuls must weigh at least 80 kilograms (176 pounds), and 2011′s contest includes several who weigh in at around 120 kilograms (264 pounds).
Unlike your average beauty pageant, which tends to conform to a strict lean-and-lithe standard, here curves are queen.
Ahead of the show, the atmosphere backstage is one of excitement.
“I’m very beautiful and I’m going to win,” 23-year-old Tanya Fayman confidently tells AFP.
“I’m very proud of myself and my body and my beauty, and no one has the right to dictate my weight, so why should I be skinny?”
For the evening wear section, Fayman sports a skin-tight strappy dress, high heels and strings of necklaces, her dark hair falling pin-straight to her shoulders.
Proud of her figure, she shows no sign of embarrassment when the side of her top splits open slightly as she talks, simply grabbing a needle and thread to stitch up the tear.
The Russian-born beauty’s confidence was well-founded. After two rounds in which the 20 contestants strut their stuff in ball gowns, and a trouser-and-top ensemble, Fayman was crowned the winner.
As strobe lights flashed and coloured confetti rained down onto the stage, Fayman received her crown, and the runners-up got their bouquets.
A political science student at a university near Tel Aviv who works part-time selling shoes, Fayman was delighted to win, but stressed physical beauty was not the most important thing to her.
“The most important beauty is beauty of the soul, and beauty of the heart, not just beauty of the body and face,” she said.
The annual “Miss Fat & Beautiful” contest is the brainchild of modelling agent Esterica Nagid, who says she encountered some resistance when she first proposed it in the mid 1990s.
“I launched this competition for the first time 15 years ago, and when I raised the idea people called me crazy,” she told AFP.
“But when I organized it and promoted it, even I was surprised by how many women wanted to take part.
“The contestants have to come a long way – practising how to walk on a stage, and practising stopping in front of the camera,” she says.
“The idea of this whole competition is to boost the confidence of these women and to let them know that beauty is not only for thin people.
“All of the women on this stage are lovely and magical … they have to know that all of them are beautiful,” she said.
And the competition has become famous enough to attract hopefuls from across the Jewish state.
Adi Isaac, 24, travelled from the northern port city of Haifa some 200 kilometres (125 miles) away to participate in the contest.
As a child, she was badly bullied for being overweight, she says. Since then, she’s learned to be happy with herself and to pay no heed to negative opinions about what she looks like.
She didn’t win, but has no regrets about joining the competition.
“The important thing is that I took part in the contest and I enjoyed it and I was happy.”
City officials in the Tel Aviv suburb of Petah Tikva are tired of their town being called a sleepy, boring place.
They didn’t even need to read comments posted by Petah Tikva resident Lior on a local Internet forum, in which she said the best thing about her hometown was the road to Tel Aviv. “It’s a gray, aging, boring place,” she wrote.
There were those who came to Petah Tikva’s defense on the web forum, suggesting if she didn’t like it, she could move down the road to Tel Aviv, but even they knew their hometown has suffered from image problems in recent years.
Municipal officials are trying to change that image by luring night spots, including bars, restaurants, cafes and bars to relocate to Petah Tikva. As an initial step, the city is offering reduced municipal taxes (arnona, in Hebrew ) to businesses that open in the city’s industrial zones.
The city council has also approved a 2011 tax ordinance, still awaiting approval by the Interior Ministry, that provides the same discount to restaurants, cafes, night clubs and party centers.
Despite its boring image, Petah Tikva has everything and is in fact the sixth largest city in the country, says Itai Shonshine, a local city councilman who heads the municipal department that provides services to young people.
He said new places of entertainment have opened in recent years that have attracted patrons from around the region. Shonshine, who is former chairman of the National Union of Israeli Students, is planning a summer beer festival in Petah Tikva as another effort to attract younger people, along with an advertising campaign positioning the city, which has more than 38,000 residents between the ages of 18 and 30, more attractively among a younger public.
Petah Tikva resident Adi Cohen, now in his early twenties, recalls a meeting that he had when he was 17 with Mayor Yitzhak Ohayon. During the meeting, he took the mayor to task about the dearth of places of entertainment in town. He said the mayor responded that Petah Tikva was a bedroom community and if people wanted entertainment, they had the No. 51 and No. 66 buses to Tel Aviv.
“Over the years, there have been all kinds of local initiatives for nightclubs,” Cohen asserts, “but nothing was successful, because it really wasn’t cool to spend free time in Petah Tivka.”
In the past two years, however, there has been a change and there are now a number of successful night spots, primarily in the Ramat Siv and Segula areas of town. Yaniv Oberkovich, an owner of the Barolo bar-restaurant in the Ramat Siv industrial zone, says he gets about 150 patrons every night. In 2006, when he opened the establishment, people called him crazy, but things have changed since then.
“Today Petah Tikva isn’t what it once was,” he says. “The new neighborhoods have brought a new population to the city and its image is changing. Tel Aviv, for example, is the city from where the largest number of incoming residents are coming.”