beauty has many FACEs

SOME of the most gorgeous women have arrived in South Africa vying for the title of the most beautiful woman in the world.

SOME of the most gorgeous women have arrived in South Africa vying for the title of the most beautiful woman in the world.

The event is so significant that the president of the republic, Jacob Zuma, took time out of his busy schedule to meet and be photographed with a bevy of these 113 stunning women.

Now there's a man who has an eye for beauty! With five spouses in his lifetime he must have a very clear idea of what makes a woman appealing.

When I saw our affable president laughing and smiling with these glamorous girls, I wondered if he really thought they were beautiful.

Zuma seems to have a taste for rotund women with plenty of flesh. These tall, slim beauties are very different from our first ladies and his ex-wives, who look like they have never skipped a meal. Nothing wrong with that, mind you.

This year I would love to see a Miss World who has some hips. A little bum wouldn't hurt either. The straight sharp nose is also becoming boring.

What a breath of fresh air it would be to have her face adorned with the broad African nose and thick lips. And how about Nkhensani Nkosi's bald head or at least songbird Lira's type of Afro?

I bet many are shaking their heads because even with much talk about the African Renaissance and the rekindling of a passion for African norms, it is inconceivable that a Miss World would be anything but legs that go up to her neck, a small waist, long face with thin lips, small nose and, of course, long, straight hair - fake or otherwise.

What is beauty? I don't for one minute believe that a bald-headed black girl is more in touch with her blackness than one with a weave and lots of make-up.

I am not making a case for the "Plain Janes" of this world or the radical "revolutionaries" who believe that the absence of make-up and accessories on a woman is the pinnacle of Africanness.

The outside frame, while important, can never be the reflection of who you are and what you stand for as a person.

But my sense is that we have become comfortable with the universal definition of beauty and have hardly challenged it.

This construct of aesthetics is largely Eurocentric.

How else do you explain that on the global platform a woman who has the features I've described has never won the Miss World or Miss Universe titles, let alone taken part in the competitions?

How is it possible for all the contestants to have the same look? Logic tells me that uniformity should be the antithesis of a competition that purports to be as global and diverse as the Miss World pageant.

Over the years these beauty pageants have reinforced Western norms as the standard by which beauty must be defined and measured. A woman who chooses to have a different look should have just as much of an opportunity to showcase her version of what's beautiful as the one who decides to stick with the continuum.

But it would take a brave young woman to rock up at the contest with a bald head or natural hair, minimum or no make-up and a Jennifer Lopez butt.

It would take an even bolder judge to declare this kind of woman the most beautiful of them all.

It is not inconceivable for this to happen. Somebody, somewhere thought that Alek Wek was worthy of being a top model. In her autobiography she details the obstacles she had to endure in her path to glory.

The fascination with her "otherness" was often a debilitating factor because she was not described as beautiful as most models are, but as different.

Decades earlier, Somali-born top model Iman also had to fight the prejudice about her African looks. She was different and therefore not beautiful enough.

But these two gorgeous women prevailed and sealed their places on the most revered catwalks and fashion pages in the world.

They redefined beauty and paved the way for women who are beautiful in a different way to also be seen, heard and celebrated.