As 20 hopefuls count down the days until they hit the purple carpet and a night of glitz and glamour, beauty and smiles, the Miss Universe New Zealand competition is aiming to turn heads and change stereotypes.
Among them is Sophie Hopes, daughter of broadcaster Paul Henry.
After a year rebranding the competition, executive director Nigel Godfrey has sought to add some integrity and transparency to the once toxic “pageant land”.
“I don’t think there has been any real dignity in the way the competitions have been judged in New Zealand,” he says.
“We are not sitting there with All Blacks going, ‘Oh yeah, she’s really nice’, which is what pageant-land has done. It’s been a joke.”
Competing for the top three places and the Miss Photogenic title, girls are judged on a range of criteria from stage presence to personality, beauty to figure and makeup to poise. Elimination rounds cut 20 finalists down to 10, and then five.
“I thought it would be like pageants you see on TV, but it hasn’t been like that at all,” says contestant Mariah Te Whana, 20, who had felt no pressure from the organisers.
Neekita Naidu, 24, said her experience had convinced her the competition stereotype was a myth.
“We have different races and not everyone is super-gorgeous and tall. I really wanted to get rid of the stereotype of how it is all blonde, pretty, blue-eyed girls, so I really want to win it being an Indian.”
Mr Godfrey said he was not sure why celebrating beauty was seen as wrong in a country that celebrated a lot of other things people were born with, such as singing, dancing or sporting talents.
“None of the girls in this competition were born and spent the last 20 years doing nothing but eating KFC.
“They all keep themselves fit, they care about fashion, they are interested in makeup and hair and I am not going to knock that.”
Minnie May Niha, 18, another Miss Universe NZ contestant, said she had been training in the gym as much as she could and eating healthily.
“There’s a lot of effort that we need to put in, not only with our body image but promoting ourselves within the media and fundraising for the Children’s Variety Charity.”
The Miss Universe New Zealand finals take place on Saturday at Auckland’s Sky City Theatre.
By Meghan Lawrence