Miss Landmine and other "beauty" contests

The always interesting site, Global Voices, had an especially fascinating post about the Miss Landmine contest being canceled in Cambodia. As detailed in a statement in The Mirror, an overview the Khmer language press, The Ministry of Social Affairs Veteran and Youth Rehabilitation does not support the Miss Landmine contest, because it can create misunderstandings among the public towards the honor of disabled people, especially of disabled women. And, while I might not have worded it that way, I definitely agree.

Let me give some background. Many, if not most, of Three Stone Steps products are made in Cambodia. And, most are made by landmine and polio victims. In fact, Three Stone Steps’ silk and cotton producer has horribly disfigured hands due to something that happened to her during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. She has never showed the slightest bit of discomfort with her appearance. In fact, why not just let you see her? (She’s the one in the gray shirt, and apologies for the bad photo of her):

Now for a very long aside:

Whether I like it or not, Three Stone Steps, which sells bags, wallets, scarves, and jewelry rolls, etc., is part of the “fashion” industry, or at least part of the “fashion accessory” industry. And, as a progressive and “green” business, I often gasp when some of my “eco-fashion” cohorts shoot photos of their organic cotton shirts or bamboo bamboo bags using conventional fashion magazine models and poses. Really, the way I look at it, if you’re going to take on conventional clothes and accessories, you may as well take on the conventional way that they’re shown.

But, now back to the the Miss Landmine contest. According to an article in The Guardian last year, the pageant was started by a male film and theater director from Norway. (According to the article, Norwegians find beauty pageants very “politically incorrect.” And, while I wouldn’t use a loaded term like “political correctness,” I also find them sexist and dehumanizing.) The pageant organizer thought that juxtaposition of a pageant and landmines was theatrical. He’s right. It got attention. It got me to write a blog post on it. But, of course, that doesn’t mean it’s right. It’s just as exploitative as regular beauty pageants, and on top of that, it reinforces Western notions of beauty.

So, in honor of the canceled Miss Landmine Pageant, below are pictures of some of the truly beautiful women who create Three Stone Steps’ products:

Except for the final photo, all of these photos are taken in the outskirts of Phnom Penh:

At the sewing machine:

Sewing beads on jewelry roll by hand:
Sewing by hand and by daylight:
Silk dyer, Takeo Province:



Filed under bamboo, Cambodia, jewlery rolls, messenger bags, Phnom Penh, silk

3 responses to “Miss Landmine and other "beauty" contests

  1. Hi Ellen,

    I agree that traditional pageants are as exploitative and sexist as it gets. I also think that the Miss Landmine pageant is a truly original way to bring attention to the landmine crisis in Cambodia. But as I said on another friend’s blog who posted about the competition, I think it’s the wrong approach, and I’ll tell you why:

    The Miss Landmine website features profiles of its contestants, and almost every single one of those profiles lists these women’s stated “future ambition” as some form of business ownership.

    It seems to me that empowering women to be economically self-sufficient is far more powerful and effective a means of addressing the challenge of self worth than encouraging these women to gain such self worth from competitive objectification and sexualization. I mean really, what’s sexier? A conventional appearance, or the ability to thrive on one’s own abilities?

    Does the pageant bring external attention to the landmine crisis? Sure. But does it actually serve the women on whose backs the campaign is built? That’s my biggest beef with it. I’d much rather see initiatives work to empower these women economically.

    Private businesses that serve this purpose (like Three Stone Steps), as well as supporting public policy initiatives, are really what’s needed here!


  2. Thanks for this detailed article. It clears my doubts about some facts. It was worth reading it.

  3. Anonymous

    Dear Author http://www.threestonesteps.com !
    Bravo, seems to me, is a remarkable phrase

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