"Like the real Miss World there is day wear, swim-wear and evening wear." Unlike the real Miss World, at the Alternative Miss World pageant, it may be modeled by a septuagenarian, robot, or drag queen.
The artist Andrew Logan created the first Alternative Miss World pageant in London in 1972, at the height of the original's smiling, bikini'd popularity. To Logan, the event was a celebration of the burgeoning gay and artistic counterculture; homosexuality and cross-dressing had only been made legal seven years previously. Writes Michele Hanson, a be-mopped and wedding-gowned contestant in that first pageant,
The official Miss World may, over the years, have had strict rules about age, gender, shape, size, outfit and behaviour - unmarried mothers, drinkers and former nude models tend not to have been wanted. Logan's Alternative has no such restrictions. Gay men have been contestants, and so have straight men dressed as women, and women dressed as men, or anyone dressed as anything, often with an additional cabaret of naked, painted, fairly voluptuous dancing women - The Binney Sisters. Any gender, with any background, of any age, or any species can win. A robot and a 75-year-old Russian woman have done so.
In the years since, the AMW has grown in scale and popularity, from a lark to an organized, expensive annual event. In fact, so threatening did the creators of the original Miss World find the upstart that several years in they brought an injunction against Logan - thrown out by a judge, thanks in part to defense lawyer Tony Blair. Themes run the gamut from "Wild" to "Universe" - this year's is "Elements" - and contestants, while not held to conventional pageant standards, take the challenges and competition seriously.
Not surprisingly, many are nostalgic for the event's early days, when whimsy reigned and it was made up of outsiders, misfits and friends. But perhaps the pageant's prominence is a good thing: it's disheartening to know that nearly forty years on, standards have not only not changed, but, if anything have calcified. (Get an eyeful the barely-there Jessica Simpson-designed bikinis this year's Miss Universe hopefuls will be almost wearing!) And lord knows dubious iterations like kiddie pageants have only taken off in that time. Says one contestant, Piers Atkinson (Miss Noma O'Void 1998),
"What on earth has happened to feminism? We're meant to be more liberated, but everyone's more generic. Everyone looks the same - like pole dancers. Blonde hair, big tits. It's a great look, if that's what you like, but not for everybody. I prefer style, poise, dignity and imagination."
If that involves rubber gloves, a shower cap and a lobster costume? So much the better.