In 2017, Hadley Grace Robinson-Lewis was a contestant in the NZ Miss World pageant. Her experience of misogyny and bullying in the wake of #MeToo has made her step forward to highlight the unacceptable culture inside Miss World New-Zealand
In 2017 I was a contestant in the NZ Miss World pageant. During the months of training leading up to the competition, some of the contestants became concerned at the emotionally unsafe manner in which the event was held in.
I won the title of Miss Global Tourism New-Zealand which, would lead me to compete in a beauty pageant in China. I declined the offer almost immediately after I won the placing as I realized how demeaning, disingenuous, physically and psychologically damaging beauty pageants are for women.
I was bullied online by several contestants who supposedly are “anti-bullying advocates” for speaking out about how I felt about being ostracized and demeaned by the Miss World New-Zealand organisation.
Contestants were urged to be open about their most vulnerable moments in a roundtable session where each of us had to talk about the most painful moments in our life including major mental health issues and serious family adversaries without the supervision of a Health Professional. It almost seemed that some women were somewhat persuaded to open up. I believe this was incredibly dangerous as a young woman attempted suicide during the pageant training one evening in her own residence. It is a highly unsafe environment that requires monitoring.
I was originally told that Miss New-Zealand would build my confidence and that as expected all contestants would be treated professionally and with respect.
As a young woman, I felt bullied and verbally violated by comments made by a director regarding our bodies after our roundtable session and felt persecuted due to speaking up about the way in which the event was run.
I paid $1000 to enter as a Miss New-Zealand finalist with no sponsorship for my entry free and raised $25,000 for Project Hope, the charity I advocated for. I also trusted a worldwide organization to adhere to their values with respect to those who helped Miss World.
Below is the email sent by Miss World NZ after we had raised concerns privately….
Email from Miss World NZ
“I was going to say good evening Ladies but its hardly appropriate in this case.
Good Evening Females.
I rarely respond to libel or slander but this is one of the few occasions where I am going to do so.
It’s not at all surprising to me that the three most vociferous and complaining of this year’s candidates turned out to be those that did the least in ticket sales and sponsorship.
XXXX – If you had gone off us months ago why di you enter in the first place? How many people would have turned up at your BWAP event if XXXX had not sold 21 tickets? Remember too, you turned your BWAP collection into a partial registration fee and so your BWAP was zero. Sold 7 tickets at a table, despite having a large family to assist.
XXXX – BWAP NIL. Sold 12 tickets at a table
Hadley- 13 tickets. Nobody asked you to enter again next year – Honestly, why would we?
XXXX and Hadley – who got you your sponsorship through our friend XXX XXXX at XXXXX an Auckland restaurant?
XXXX who got you half sponsorship through Kvella?
In regard to us “pocketing a lot” you should be ashamed of yourselves for even suggesting it. All our staff including Rose and I volunteer our services entirely unpaid. We even pay our own airfares and accommodation to attend Miss World each year. Before posting on Facebook with your nastiness and lies you should think hard because there are others who do not think as you three do and they are the ones that performed well and appreciated what we do. I also know who has been trying to poison Project Hope with your lies in this regard. It comes to mind that you didn’t choke on the free food that Rose cooked for you each week.
If you talk and write like losers then losers you will be.
If you feel so hard done by, then hand in your titles and we will find more deserving young ladies to travel overseas. More to the point, we have the right to PULL your titles using your malicious facebook comments as a valid reason and we may do so after 24 hours of reflection and consultation with the full committee.
Finally, IT IS BETTER TO KEEP YOUR MOUTHS CLOSED AND LOOK LIKE A FOOL THAN TO OPEN IT AND REMOVE ALL DOUBT”.
Without Kindest Regards”
The representatives of Miss New-Zealand demeaned young women aged 18, 21 and 24. This is a man with years of experience in his 60s who I would expect to be more mature regarding young women speaking about their troubles on a private conversation which, he gained access to after one of the people involved in the chat showed him.
I believe this issue significantly relates to feminism and power imbalances in society today.
At first, I was hesitant to highlight the reality of beauty pageants as I was afraid of a large powerful organisation and the repercussions that I may experience following releasing the information. I also felt sympathy for the people involved in Miss World as they may not be aware of the damage made to the contestants, however, part of myself couldn’t let it go. I requested an explanation and apology before releasing the information, unfortunately, I never received a response. I would like to inform all women considering entering Miss World to be aware as I will admit that I may have been quite naive when I applied for the pageant. The directors do not advise the contestants of the true reality that encompasses the competition. Fellow women and pageant contestants please take into consideration that standing with an organisation that oppresses women means you stand with the oppressor and against the victims.
Beauty pageants are often pushed aside as everyone is aware that they seem quite trivial however vulnerable women are left to suffer. This issue is something significant that needs to be recognised in society today. This story is also not simply an issue related to beauty pageants, it relates to feminism and discrimination in our communities.
My experience is not an isolated incident. Multiple contestants and Miss World NZ winners have come forward to the media to share their stories of pain and trauma.