Botswana Beauty Pageants
Beauty pageants are a common Saturday night affair in Botswana. In a land where imagination and resourcefulness are responsible for all forms of entertainment, the Botswana have found a unique take on the American beauty pageant, filling the darkest of nights with a ruckus of hollering and booming music. School gymnasiums, hotel banquet rooms and bush bars come alive with Miss “Anything”.
Girls of all sizes and shapes, with different shades of skin and unique styles of performance – even some with local hairdos pierced with porcupine quills – don their best dresses to parade their idea of glamour for the Saturday night revelers.
Any girl who can afford the $5–$10 to get their hair done and scrape together three themed outfits, is welcome to participate in a pageant. In the glaring afternoon sunlight some of the girls are flashy, some of them completely unadorned. But when the sun falls, the air cools and the sound system, which is rigged together with a mass of live wires, starts blaring Shakira’s “Hips Don’t Lie”, each one is completely transformed.
Gladys, who grew up in Maun and holds the title for Miss Ngami Land, loves a Saturday night as much as anyone. She explains her own metamorphosis from working girl to weekend girl, “You just gotta get in those skinny jeans and a nice little top and look young again. Dance, scream and have as much fun as you want.”
Each of the girls dream of becoming Miss Botswana or, as happened three years ago when Miss Botswana won Miss Universe, they hope to represent their country internationally. However, outside of the pageant each girl lives an ordinary Botswana existence – Libby is in college studying tourism and hospitality; Bridgette wants to open a book binding store with her mother; Lebo imagines owning her own business; Candy has two little girls; Pearl is still in high school; and Gao just wants to have fun.
At the end of each weekend, the girls settle back into home life, with their grannies, their chickens and their goats and wait again for next Saturday night to come.