Long live the Queen! Michelle Rouillard Estrada, Miss Cauca, has become the new Miss Colombia.
Even though Colombia gained its independence from a royal regime, it seems as the nation still regrets not having continued the whole royalty thing. Who forgot to name Bolivar the first Colombian king?
Having made such a regrettable mistake, Colombia has spent decades trying to make up for its “royal” absence by crowning women left and right between all four corners of the nation.
The national beauty pageant is only one amongst many. Colombia has all sorts of honorable and sovereign royal figures, from the international queen of coffee, to the queen of the potato. Towns can have queens, festivals can have queens, even vegetables can have their own queens.
All these queens receive crowns, which they wear proudly as they wave to their constituents which have now granted them a mandate to support the… um… advancement of the sugar cane, or the pork skin, or whatever it is that they have become queens of.
Regardless of the extension of the multiple Colombian royal lines, the nation seems to never get tired of the celebration of these pageants and the culture surrounding them.
The most prominent of them all is the national pageant that occurs every year in Cartagena. The high society of Colombia unites every November for the event.
Starting the week prior to the gala, news coverage becomes almost exclusively about the pageant, with hours of broadcast, and big print spreads dedicated to the competition.
Reporters that specialize on pageantry have a wide range of techniques to measure the performance of the candidates for the throne, from thermometers in which the aspiring queens get colder or hotter, to complex point systems that use the wisdom of algebraic processes and which allow these “expert” reporters to make predictions about the results.
The queens from all over the country have to participate in a variety of events from the bathing suit competition, to the traditional attire competition. In the process they are given awards for all sorts of qualities, from being the most photogenic, to being the most friendly. Colombians follow almost with religious devotion every step to the crown.
Colombia’s obsession with pageantry might just be the clearest example of the deeply entrenched patriarchal power dynamics of Colombian society. People love having this women parade themselves as every little detail of who they are, how they speak, how flat their stomach is, how many plastic surgeries it took to get that perfect nose, are widely discussed by the media and around the TV sets all throughout the country.
Of course, the excuse is that the process is not only done for the viewing pleasure of the audience, but rather, because Colombia must have an honorable representation at Miss Universe.
Granted, the pageant of the Universe, provides an interesting public diplomacy opportunity to promote the country in a positive light. But in Colombia, there is little concern for that.
Rather, Colombians grow up knowing that our queen has only gotten promoted to the top throne once, in 1958 when Luz Marina Zuluaga became the ruler of the entire Universe.
Colombia has been second many, many times; most recently this very year, and most infamously, during a three-year second place streak in the early 90s.
Colombians are well aware of this, and do not like it at all. So every year, once more, the nation convenes to try again and hope that the elected representative will rise to universal stature. For Michelle Rouillard Estrada, nothing less is acceptable.
Well, unless she does achieve world peace, or something like that.
Author Felipe Estefan is Colombian and studies media and international relations in New York.