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'Sexist, corny...' but the French love Miss France

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'Sexist, corny...' but the French love Miss France
Photo: AFP
10:53 CET+01:00
Despite being labelled sexist and corny around eight million French TV viewers tuned in to watch the annual Miss France beauty pageant at the weekend, with the winner once again heralding from the north.

France’s second regional election of December was not quite as controversial as the first, but almost certainly more popular.

While the first poll was all about Marine Le Pen wooing a record number of voters wearing her National Front sash, the second was all about 22-year-old Iris Mittenaere (see photo below).

Heralding from the north of the country Mittenaere, a dentistry student, was crowned Miss France 2016, making it the second year in a succession that an entrant from Nord-Pas-de-Calais has scooped the title.

The beauty pageant attracted eight million TV viewers on Saturday, proving it remains as popular as ever, although some have voiced opposition.

In an editorial on the Nouvel Observateur website, celeb journalist Caroline Parlanti said: “Seriously, how can we allow such a sexist and misogynistic contest to be broadcast on prime time television on Europe’s top TV channel?”

“No really, Miss France is so corny.”

The longevity of Miss France is in contrast to the story of beauty pageants in other countries which were either ditched after TV ratings plummeted or after they were slammed for being sexist and outdated. 

There have been some recent controversies that have dogged the competition, such as when a black community rights group accused it of being "too white".

So why is it that so many French people are drawn to a beauty contest that objectifies women in a country where "égalité" is supposed to be a fundamental principle?

There is the fact that it's essentially reality TV, a format that always seems to guarantee a certain amount of success these days, but another argument is that many in France can simply relate to the young women taking part.

"The contestants are often from modest rural backgrounds, they represent a certain simplicity and authenticity," Paris university professor François Jost, a media specialist, told L'Express magazine.

Michel Le Parmentier who organized the Mini Miss contests for teenage girls, which were recently banned in France, rejects the idea the competitions are sexist.

"Beauty pageants are a way of giving someone back the confidence they may have lost,” Le Parmentier said.

“There’s no chauvinism behind the competitions, there are even feminist groups that organize pageants,” he said.

Sylvie Tellier, former contestant and now director general of Miss France said: "Miss France is a reflection of the French people. She will be invited to a lot of television shows and it would not serve us well if we elected someone who does not at least know what's going on around her."

Muriel Trueba, president of Comité Miss France, an annual non-televised beauty pageant, told The Local that part of the attraction of Miss France was that the competition stirred feelings of regional pride, that run deep in the country.

“The French are very attached to traditions and especially to their regions,” said Trueba. “The competition is mostly for entertainment, but people want to support the girl competing for their region and want to see her win.”

As for the winner, well Miss France will now get to tour the word as the “ambassador of French elegance” as one website put it.

Last year’s winner Camille Serf travelled around 200,000 kilometres to show off her crown and at the same time picked up a salary of around €3,000 a month.

She’s also be given an apartment in the chic 17th arrondissement of Paris, not far from the Arc de Triomphe.

She’ll also be bestowed with gifts worth around €100,000 from various sponsors, including an electric car, dresses and jewellery.

And she will also fly the flag for France in next year’s Miss World and Miss Universe contests.

It might be corny but the French are still in love with Miss France.

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