Saturday, December 2, 2023

I have been Miss Everything

After waiting for her for a little more or less than five minutes at PSI, where she is a marketing programme assistant, she walks down the stairs onto the Reception area, papers in hand. After exchanging a few pleasantries, she asks for two minutes and up she goes, where she had come from. It is about ten minutes before she takes the final walk down the stairs, done with the paper-pushing.

?Sorry, caught up in work,? she says, motioning towards a meeting room on the side of the reception area.

?There isn?t anyone in here?? she asks the Receptionist.

Confirmed empty, she pushes the door open, and waits for everyone to sit before closing it quietly behind her.

?I have been Miss everything,? Ellonah Seleke, reigning first princess Miss Botswana 2006, sums up her illustrious showing on the ramp. It is a hobby she got into as an innocent-eyed 6-year-old Standard 1 pupil at Ben Thema Primary School in Gaborone as she became the school?s beauty queen. Seleke probably holds the record for being the only surviving serial beauty queen around: she has been the epitome of lady-like grace at each school she has attended.

?I have been Miss Ben Thema, Miss Moepong (Junior Secondary School) and Miss Selebi Phikwe (Senior Secondary School),? she pronounces, rather proudly.

With out of school titles such as Miss Malaika, through which she went on to represent the country in Harare,

Zimbabwe, in 2002, Miss Lovers Plus 2003-2004 among others, 23-year-old Seleke knows she has done her bit for beauty pageantry in this country. It is time to call it quits while still on top of her game.
?I feel that I have to pave way for the youngsters.
Tough competition is coming. It is all in the name of growth. One good day I will love to have a family.
Maybe someday I will also be able to groom future queens. I believe that I have gained some knowledge and experience in the field. This is a great passion for me,? she says.

But if there is one thing she celebrates more about the public life she has led, it is that it has somehow groomed her into a better person. She has come to learn to juggle a public persona with her own individual personality to find an unusual serene balance that eludes many who find themselves thrust in the public eye. She has known what it means to be a people?s ambassador as well as working responsibly to make a difference in people?s lives.

?I know that children look up to me as a role model. I am not a clubbing person. I don?t drink or smoke. I have never made headlines for the wrong reasons.
Sometimes I wonder what I would have been doing if it wasn?t for the passion I have for pageantry. When you are a queen you just cannot afford to be seen in public heckling someone or showing yourself in lingerie. It is not like modeling where you can just be wild and pose scantily dressed. You do not hear stories of Queen Elizabeth caught in situations that are not lady-like,? she says.
It is the Miss Lovers Plus pageant that she really looks back at with a sense of achievement. It opened her eyes to many possibilities. It showed her what she is capable of doing.

?That was the cutting moment for me. I managed to organise a senior schools debate contest that addressed HIV/AIDS and health issues in 2004. It really made an impact. Some who took part in it often ask me if it will ever get to see the light of day. I also spent Valentine?s Day with the sick at the Maun Hospital in the same year. With the help of sponsorship from the business community in the village, we managed to even give out gifts. It?s a pity the projects were not continued after my reign ended,? she says.

The secret of her feats in the industry, she reveals, is confidence. She has made critics who told her she is too short to get any pageant eat their own words.

?I told them to just watch me. You don?t need to starve yourself to be in front of people. You don?t belong among the champs if you don?t know who you are.

Its about having faith in your ability and being confident and comfortable with yourself. You just need to be a lady. There is no need to strive too hard. Be fit and appreciate yourself,? she advises.
Not that she didn?t at times think she could just be the Ellonah girl next door, free of all the baggage that comes with the throne. For some men she became a trophy to be had.

?You learn to take it all as a joke. People see you on the ramp and think that you are for sale. Although we try to be very welcoming, some people just ask far too much. Some just want to stop you in the street and discuss everything without a care in the world that you may be pressed for time. They find it rude if you try to say hi and pass by,? she says.
The worst is when everyone else seems to get into nitpicky mode over everything that belongs in her private space-be it whether she wears the same suit more than just once or how dare she walks the streets on foot.

?There is a point you feel like screaming. People can judge you to a point where they expect you to dress the way they want. It is even worse because we do not have sponsors to take care of our wardrobes. These are the kind of pressures that may drive other girls to do crazy things,? she said.

But she is leaving beauty pageantry in Botswana as no more than cheap meaty showy entertainment that runs short of being an all out sex parade to the highest bidder.

?People think beauty contests are a waste of time. People do not think they are important. That is why we even have a problem of lack of support. There is no appreciation of what we are doing. Maybe it has to do with our culture. Most parents would not allow a child to take part in a beauty pageant. They would be like ?how dare you want to strip naked in front of the public?? That is why we didn?t even have a swimwear contest last year because there are some sections of society that feel that beauty pageants are an excuse to bare it all,? she says.
But how is the show supposed to be seen? Seleke argues the field is a place where young women are groomed.

She says that it is a platform for young women to express themselves, show their beauty and be able to also show that they can make a difference in their communities.

Not only is the ramp a place that gives many conservatives headaches, it also has become an arena where the girls are increasingly being pimped off for the night so that the promoter can make money and disappear with the loot.

?We need people with a passion for beauty pageants to run them. God help so that I one good day run one of these pageants. We have so many instances of people winning pageants and not receiving the prizes they have been promised. Some even end up giving up on beauty contests. We need organisers who are not only interested in beefing up their accounts at the expense of the image of our industry. Money is important but it should not override everything,? she says.

She believes that the beauty circuit also needs to work out perfect criteria to guide the selection of the country?s representatives. If you look at some of the choices that are supposed to represent us at the Miss World, she argues, one gets the impression that we don?t strive much to make it at the Miss World pageant.

?We need the right set of judges to do the selection of the country?s queen. You will find that in other countries such people go through a rigorous training programme to help them know what is needed. Today after Miss Botswana there is no grooming. You can gain as much weight as you can,? she says.

If the beauty queen?s reign is to be socially meaningfully, she believes that she has to be helped with her projects even when her one-year reign is up.

A year is a short time to do anything much significant, she argues.

?After a year you are forgotten. Some of the out-going queen?s projects should be sustained so that they become a success and help the intended beneficiaries,? she advises.

Will she soon be forgotten as well and go the route taken by many other beauty queens before into oblivion? She argues not. Time will tell, she says.


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