The Many Faces of Fiji

Teen beauty queen dumped after race row – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation).

From the Article:

“Fiji beauty queen Torika Watters, who was the target of racist criticism about her looks, has been replaced as the island nation’s Miss World pageant entrant.

Organisers say the issue is her age and deny her axing is connected to complaints the 16-year-old of mixed European-Fijian heritage did not look Fijian enough.”

This cuts across a few issues that are important to me. Firstly the westernization/whitewash of beauty. Leaving aside the important question of why beauty is important for women in the first place, there are a few interesting facts. Rachel Hunter and a number of other non-Fijian people were on the judging panel. Torika waters is half indigenous Fijian and half White. She has that ethnic ambiguity that is so popular right now on the covers of magazines.  Brown skin (not too dark though) but with features that could  easily also appear on a white woman, hair that is shiny and glossy – not too curly, not too straight. The global beauty agenda is dominated and shaped overwhelmingly by whiteness. It can be hard to bear. In this context the reaction of Fijian people makes sense. Why could the judges not see the beauty in the more indigenous looking women? By placing this woman above them they made a statement that looking indigenous is not beautiful. A message that these young women will receive over and over again in their lives in order to sell them products that promise beauty but deliver self loathing.

At the same time, the comments around this have spoken of Ms. Watters not looking “Fijian enough.”  This is dangerous water to tread. Who can determine at what quantum someone looks sufficiently like their nationality? I identify strongly as a New Zealander (amongst other things), I have lived here my whole life,   and yet it seems like every other day someone asks me where I come from and looks at me in disbelief when I say “Auckland.” You cannot judge someone’s nationality or even ethnicity just by looking at someone.  So while I understand the burning desire of the Fijian people to acknowledge their strength and beauty in the face of colonising concepts of beauty, I hope they can find a language that does not discount the members of their population who may not look “Fijian enough”.

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