If the overwhelming show of support she has received online is any indication, Nang Khin Zay Yar is a shoo-in to win Sunday’s Miss International competition in Okinawa, Japan—the first to be contested by a Burmese national in more than 50 years.
The 23-year-old ethnic Pa-O beauty from the Shan State capital of Taunggyi sits comfortably at the top of the People’s Choice list, garnering a total of nearly 21 million votes so far and giving her a good shot at capturing the title.
Competing against 68 other contestants from around the world, this year’s “Miss Myanmar” has already completed the three main categories of the contest—public speaking, swimwear and evening dress—since the 52nd Miss International Beauty Pageant kicked off on Oct. 1.
According to Missosology, a website that analyzes beauty pageants and is providing extensive coverage of the contest in Okinawa, Nang Khin Zay Yar has shown herself to be a strong contender.
Even in the swimsuit category—a controversial one in conservative Burma—she came in a strong 15th place, according to the website’s judges.
“Nang is showing the rest of the world what Myanmar has to offer. And yes, she did not disappoint us in her bikini. Though not your typical ‘pageant body,’ she’s still got the right curves in the right places,” opined a writer on the site.
Although not all Burmese netizens were approving of her decision to appear so immodestly dressed in public, most took it in stride.
“The way I see it, she had to do it in accordance with the rules of the contest, so it doesn’t undermine our culture,” commented one Burmese woman online.
In the far less contentious “national costume” category, Nang Khin Zay Yar fared even better, coming in ninth.
“I loved her a lot in her Pa-O traditional dress, as well as in her Burmese outfits,” said De Jay, an ethnic Taaung woman from Shan State who has taken a special interest in Nang Khin Zay Yar’s performance in the contest because “it is so rare for a minority person to represent our country abroad.”
Connecting with her many fans in Burma and around the world through Facebook and Twitter, Nang Khin Zay Yar thanked them all and vowed to do her best. She also urged them to vote for her on Flickr, where her photos have attracted admirers in droves.
Fluent in English and German, Nang Khin Zay Yar worked as a tour guide for five years before winning the “Miss Myanmar 2012” contest in March. Since then, she has embarked on career as a professional model.
For many Burmese, she has become a proud symbol of the world’s renewed interest in their country, after decades of military-imposed isolation.
“I voted for her because she has attracted the attention of people around the world to our country,” said Thet Khine, a Burmese man currently living in Bangkok.
Others, however, simply said they admired her for her personal charms, including her sweet smile. Still other said that she would help pave the way for a new generation of Burmese women.
Nang Khin Zay Yar is the second contestant from Burma to compete in the Miss International Pageant since it started in 1960. The first Miss Burma contested in 1961.
This year’s contest will pick a winner on Sunday, when last year’s Miss International, Maria Fernanda Cornejo of Ecuador, will crown her successor.
According to Missosology on Thursday, the favorites to win are Miss USA Amanda Renee Delgado and Miss Japan Ikumi Yoshimatsu.