They say most men would secretly like to dress as a woman at least once… Last month, nine men seized the opportunity to do just that at Miss Russell 2014, a male-only, charity event organised by the Duke of Marlborough. There were meant to be more contestants, but the others lost their nerve at the last minute. Hardly surprising when the small-town show calls for a swimsuit round as well as evening-wear.
New Zealand’s Beauty Pageant history began in 1926. Even then, in a new, progressive country, it was frowned upon as exploitation, petering out in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Then, in 1987, Mr New Zealand was introduced through pure demand from male Kiwis. No exploitation here – the guys embraced their newfound freedom, even to the painful extremes of waxing.
Two of the Miss Russell contestants were related to me. Jan (‘Janine’), my husband, wanted to raise money for a local cause. Glyn (‘Glynis’), my father, entered to keep him company and really wished he hadn’t! Backstage, the general terror was no more than for a female competition, the camerarderie probably better. Contestants borrowed nail polish and swapped hair removal advice. There was an awful lot of beer drunk, changing to wine as the men turned into women. Caterpillars into butterflies.
On the catwalk, surrounded by a crowd of around 300, the ‘girl’s’ strutted their stuff to a soundtrack of clichéd music, tossing their hair and blowing kisses to the judges. The contestants with beards (Janine and Glynis) stood out like a sore thumb amongst the hairless ones. There were a couple of entrants who were so spookily feminine they left the excited audience in an awed silence. One of them, Noah (or ‘Noelle’), won, and deserved to.
Janine refused to take his/her outfit off after the competition and wore it out to dinner, much to the delight of visiting Japanese tourists. He lapped up the attention and posed for photos on the wharf. When asked if they would consider entering Miss Russell 2015, Janine fluttered her eyebrows with a coy smile. Glynis, on the other hand, said ‘It was like putting your hand in a nest of vipers. Why would you want to do it twice?’