Dateline Irrawaddy: ‘The Role of Women has Become Greater’

By The Irrawaddy 8 August 2015

Aye Chan Myae: This week, we’ll be discussing what it takes to become a beauty queen and dos and don’ts for Burmese women. Htar Htet Htet, the winner of Miss Grand International Myanmar, and former winner of Miss Myanmar and author Khin Thandar will join me for the discussion. I am Irrawaddy Burmese Edition Editor Aye Chan Myae.

But first, Ma Khin Thandar and Ma Htar Htet Htet, as you know the flood Burma is facing now is terribly serious. It has hit across the nation in both the north and south. And the entire nation is trying to help the flood victims. They are trying to help everyone, regardless of their religion and race, and I am very pleased with that. I heard that models and artists like Htar Htet Htet and writers like Khin Thandar, along with painters and cartoonists, are soliciting for donations at shopping malls and public places for flood victims. So Htar Htet Htet, how and where have you sought donations?

Htar Htet Htet: The day before yesterday, we asked for donations at Junction Square and Junction 8 and we got lots of cash contributions. And everyone donated with great enthusiasm. Yesterday, we asked for donations at the Taw Win Center and Yuzuna Plaza. We got a lot of cash contributions, more than 10 million kyats (US$8,200) in total, in two days. Though the disaster is taking place in other parts of Burma, people in Rangoon make donations willingly, with enthusiasm. So, it was worthwhile asking for donations and I am very grateful to all the donors.

ACM: These days, many Burmese models compete in international beauty contests. They contest by arrangement of local modeling agencies. I heard that many models were engaged in philanthropic works before competing in the beauty contests. Ma Khin Thandar, what is you view on them giving a helping hand in the face of a disaster?

Khin Thandar: In this day and age, most of the contestants answer that they engage in philanthropic works during the question and answer session of beauty contests. It is pleasing that they know they have to answer that they engage in philanthropic works. And I’ve found that they are not only giving lip service. In the aftermath of floods, some Facebook users have written, “Where are the beauty queens who say they love philanthropic works have gone now?” Now, you know that Htar Htet Htet has solicited for donations. They criticize us because they do not know or see beauty queens doing so. In fact, all of them are engaged in philanthropic works. Beauty queens, out of their sympathy and compassion, are playing a part in helping the flood victims and this is an act that should be praised, I think.

ACM: To which areas and with which organization you will go to help flood victims with the donations you have collected?

HHH: We are an online donation group. It is an online group formed with friends. We make donations on a regular basis and also for emergency. This month, we made a regular donation at an orphanage in Thanlyin Township. Then we met and decided to solicit for donations, as emergency relief was needed in other states and divisions. Now relief camps are opened in Pegu Division and flood victims from other states are taking shelter there. If donor groups go to flood-hit areas separately, the travel costs may be high. But if we go collectively, we can donate more. We will make donations to places which are easily accessible and where we can make the donation in person. But then, I have read in news that donors give all their donations at certain places and do not go to some places which are far. There are many victims in places which are hardly accessible. So, we will also go to those places to help those victims.

ACM: In fact, it would be the best to give most to those who bear the brunt of floods, so they receive much-needed relief and supplies. I heard that Ma Khin Thandar is also soliciting for donations together with other writers. Don’t you also solicit for donations at the gym you run? Please tell us about it.

KT: We writers and publishers sold our books at the charity show organized by artists at the Myanmar Convention Center. We donated all the money from our book sales for flood victims. We sold books as a part of the charity show. We in the Writers Association also plan to go to flood-hit areas and make donations in person. Writer Chit Kyi Aye, who is in Singapore, solicits for donations there. I run a gym called Miss Myanmar Gym and there are around 100-120 trainees there. Since they know I will go to Pwintbyu on Aug. 10, I don’t need to go anywhere to ask for donations, and I receive donations at my gym. So, the donations I collect from my gym will be added to donations of writers.

ACM: Models have to be qualified if they are to compete in international beauty contests. Hitting the gym has become popular these days and even ordinary people go to the gym now. Htar Htet Htet, you also do gymnastics. Would you tell us about the importance of fitness not only for models who are contesting beauty contests but also for other women?

HHH: I think it is important for everyone to do exercise, should it be at the gym or somewhere else. We are not easily worn out when we are young. But, we will know the benefits of doing regular exercise when we get old. Doing regular exercise is good for blood circulation. The body structure of girls who do exercises is different from that of girls who don’t. As I do gymnastics, I have a toned body. Those who do exercise regularly do not get ill easily. People may not be aware while they are young, but when they get old, they might be in very bad health if they don’t do regular exercise while they are young. I always urge people in my circle and through interviews to do exercise for around ten minutes daily.

KT: Girls in your age group feel a need to be beautiful. A fine physique will automatically boost the confidence of a girl. Again, the body structures of beauty contest contestants who do gym is different from that of those who do not. I also serve as a judge at Myanmar Physical Strength and Beauty Association and therefore at just a glance, I can see the difference—the strength of the muscles of those who do gym. You girls in your age group need that for their self-esteem and housewives and women in their late 30s also need that for health reasons.

ACM: Now, more and more women-related issues are discussed in Myanmar and some women’s organizations have called for women taking decision-making roles in politics and helping to end domestic violence. As such, the role of women has become greater. Beauty queens are playing their part and other scholars in various sectors are also focusing on the role of women. Apart from beauty, what else does a beauty queen needs to be endowed with?

HHH: A girl needs three Bs—body, beauty and brain— to be crowned as a beauty queen. We have to contest in swimsuits. It is a physical test. This exhibits the difference between fit and unfit contestants. This is where fit ones get good scores and unfit ones don’t. Some criticize because in their opinion, some beauty queens are not beautiful. In international beauty contests, beauty queens who are crowned may not be considered beautiful by some. But in fact, their beauty is unique and different from others. We can’t just judge from outer appearance.

To be crowned as a beauty queen, a girl needs to know what her unique beauty is, what makes her different from others. For example, if she has a more beautiful mind than others. Only when she can see something that makes her distinguish herself from others, and show it to the audience and the judges, the judges will notice that part of her. This is the most important thing. She does not need to have a beautiful outer appearance. She needs to have beautiful mind. She must be intelligent and have considerable knowledge. If a girl contests in an international pageant, things are different than from a local pageant. She must be able to talk about her country to contestants from other countries. She must be able to support her country. She must be able to learn from the changes in the host country. And she must be bright and intelligent and have considerable knowledge in order to answer the questions of judges. She needs to give the best answers. As I said, the three most important things are body, beauty and brain.

ACM: Htar Htar Htet talked about the qualifications a beauty queen should have. Ma Khin Thandar, you are a former Miss Myanmar and you now run a gym. You also serve as a judge at the Myanmar Physical Strength and Beauty Association and you are an author. You are now in middle age. In your view, what qualities ideal Myanmar women should have?

KT: Since we were children, it has been generally believed that beautiful girls are incompetent. People believe that girls who are beautiful are not able. Why is this so? Since I am a writer, I would like to stress the role of knowledge. As you need exercise to have a beautiful body, you need to read to broaden your horizons. We need to read all genres of literature, both the books that cater to aesthetic enjoyment and purely informative writing. It is important to read books of aesthetic merit, to warm the heart. For example, in beauty contests, only the contestants who read books of aesthetic merit will be cooperative, have sympathy and the will to help other contestants without only focusing on winning the contest.

To answer the questions of judges at international beauty contests, they need to read lots of informative pieces of writing. They should not only read their own national literature, but also the literature of foreign countries. Not only beauty contest competitors but also women in various other fields such as reporters, businesswomen, and government employees should read. I would especially like to urge the young to read. If they begin reading at our age, it is too late. The best girls start to read and learn thoroughly in their respective fields when they are as old as you, Htar Htet Htet. It would be beneficial to them. I want them to read a lot.

ACM: Thank you very much. Your discussion is very beneficial to Burmese women in different age groups. Thank you very much Ma Htar Htet Htet and Ma Khin Thandar. I hope flood victims see the back of their troubles as soon as possible.