“They did not see the real beauty, yet again.”
The fan-created meme was shared by Miss Georgia Lara Yan on her Instagram story shortly after Miss Philippines Catriona Gray was crowned as Miss Universe 2018.
In an interview weeks before the Miss Universe competition, Lara Yan also voiced: “After having seen photos of other contestants, I will tell you honestly, out of 88 contestants I only liked ten, the rest of them I could not even rank”.
I know casual fans of pageants often imagine that there’s a “dog eat dog” type of atmosphere behind the scenes of beauty pageants. They assume that every contestant is a saboteur looking for her chance to diss, destroy or minimize others.
And that is the public notion I wish we as women can help reject.
As a two-time Miss Georgia title holder myself (Miss Georgia 1995 runner up and Miss Georgia 1996), I have heard my fair share of cutting words and comments that struck below the belt from competitors. I’ve had my patent leather high heels magically disappear from my dressing room minutes before stepping on stage for the swimsuit part of the competition at Miss Georgia 1995. The agony was real!
Thankfully, any critique and negativity I’d encounter during my pageant days, I chalked it up to, “there is always going to be opposition,” and quickly glossed over it.
Miss Georgia Universe 2018 Lara Yan
But now, I take Miss Georgia’s public afront much more seriously, as a woman, as a human and as a Georgian.
Miss Universe is an opportunity and a global platform for women to become a voice for a positive change in the world and in their own communities. For this reason, contestants are judged on much more than just their physical appearance (believe it or not). Winners are selected largely by who they are in the world.
Miss Universe 2018 crowning
Every nation stands on values that are the most defining and most important for them as a people. Women sent to participate in Miss Universe aren’t there just to represent themselves, but to represent their respective countries and embody values which their nation stands on.
For Georgia, those values are Generosity, Hospitality and Honor - even when it’s inconvenient, difficult, or the situation seems unfair.
As a collective, Georgians are relentless with their generosity; it’s in the fabric of our being. In Georgia, hospitality is valued more than any other quality, skill or a trait, surpassing courage and even reputation. Honor and respect of others is not just a custom in Georgia, it’s social currency. And for women of Georgia, grace, courage and inner class are what constitute true beauty.
Lara Yan (formally Larissa Petrosyan), this year’s Miss Universe representative from Georgia, is of Armenian descent. To me, her responsibility to bring forth the qualities and values of Georgian women on a global platform such as Miss Universe is even higher. Throwing shade and being dismissive of other contestants is a poor representation of Georgia.
Lara may have represented herself at Miss Universe, but she truly mis-represented Georgia.
Aside from patriotism or virtue, there is a deeper level of awareness we as women must create within ourselves and in the world around us.
While we fight for equality and work so hard to break gender barriers, female competitiveness and comparison is an ill-conceived war that keeps us in the battle longer.
Tearing each other down only keeps us marginalized and powerless as women. When we as women are busy fighting amongst ourselves, we can not see out, affect change in the world and claim the power that is ours. When we as women tear each other down, none of us win.
When we compete with each other, we are actually competing with ourselves. We look at other women and see a prettier, smarter, better version of ourselves. We don't see other women at all. It unnerves us to see in other women what we have squashed in ourselves, and we take the easy road of turning against them.
Only when we have long signed out of our own dreams and ambitions do we not wholeheartedly support other women in theirs. We criticize, attack and try to undercut other women in direct proportion of how harshly we treat ourselves, deny our own potential and judge our imperfections.
We can not claim our power from this place of unworthiness and fear.
We can only start truly seeing other women when we give ourselves permission to work on becoming the women we ourselves long to be. When we start respecting our own dreams, we have agency to support and celebrate other women who do, too.
If we want to change the culture to where women are not valued only by comparison, we need to be active participants of that change. There is nothing stronger and more beautiful than women who refuse to be set against each other. We have to show the world that thinking less of another woman next to us is not a compliment to any of us.
Whether it’s in beauty pageants or outside of them, a win for some of us is a win for all of us.
In many ways I am a shining example of the American Dream. I was born in Hungary during the Communist era, and my family fled to Israel before coming to the U.S. in pursuit of freedom and safety. When we arrived, I was just a young, shy girl who couldn't speak English. After my childhood in Hungary, New York City was a marvel; I couldn't believe that such a lively, rich place existed. Even a simple thing like going to the market and seeing all the bright, colorful produce and having so many choices was new to me. I'll never take that for granted. I think it's where my love affair with color truly began.
One thing I had was a strong work ethic. I worked hard in school, to learn English, and at jobs including my first job at Dairy Queen -- which I loved! Ice cream is easily my favorite food. From there, I moved into the garment district where my brother-in-law's family had a business. During this time, I was able to see how a business was run and began to hone in on my eye for aesthetics and willingness to work hard at any task I was given.
Eventually, my brother-in-law bought a dental supply company in Los Angeles and asked me to join him. LA, a place with 365-days of sunshine. How could I say no? The company started as Odontorium Products Inc. During the acrylic movement of the 1980s, we realized that nail technicians were buying our product, and that the same components used for dentures were used for artificial nails. We saw a potential opening in the market, and we seized it. OPI began dropping off the "rubber band special" at every salon on Ventura Blvd. in Los Angeles. A jar of powder, liquid and primer – rubber-banded together – became the OPI Traditional Acrylic System and was a huge hit, giving OPI its start in the professional nail industry. It was 1981 when OPI first opened its doors. I couldn't have predicted our success, but I knew that hard work and faith in myself would be key in transforming a new business into a company with global reach.
When we started OPI, what we were doing was something new. Before OPI came on the scene, the generic, utilitarian nail polish names already on the market – like Red No. 4, Pink No. 2 – were completely forgettable. We rebranded the category with catchy names that we knew women could relate to and would remember. The industry was stale and boring, so we made it more fun and sexy. We started creating color collections. I carefully developed 30 groundbreaking colors for the debut collection -- many of which are still beloved bestsellers today, including Malaga Wine, Alpine Snow and Kyoto Pearl.
There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does.
With deep roots in Tinseltown, we eventually started collaborating with Hollywood. Our decision to collaborate with the entertainment industry also propelled OPI forward in another way, ultimately leading us to finding a way to connect with women beyond the world of beauty, relating our products to the beverages they drink, the cars they drive, the movies they watch, the clothes they wear – even the shade they use to paint their living room walls! There is no other nail color brand in the world that touches the totality of industries the way OPI does. It also propelled my growth as a businessperson forward. I found myself sitting in meetings with executives from some of the top companies in the world. I didn't have a fancy presentation. I didn't have a Harvard business degree. I realized that what I had was passion. I had a passion for what we were doing, and I had my own unique story that no one else could replicate.
Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today
Bit by bit, I grew up with the business. Discipline, hard work, and passion gave me the confidence to grow from that shy immigrant girl to become the person that I am today -- an author, public speaker, and co-founder of OPI, the world's #1 professional nail brand.
I learned quickly that one can be an expert at many things, but not everything. Running a business is very hard work. Luckily, I had someone I could collaborate with who brought something new to the table and complemented my talents, my brother-in-law George Schaeffer. My business "superpower," or the ability to make decisions quickly and confidently, kept me ahead of trends and competition.
Another key to my success in building this brand and in growing in business was being authentic. Authenticity is so important to brands and maybe even more so now in the time of social media when you can speak directly to your consumers. I realized even then that I could only be me. I was a woman who knew what I wanted. I looked at my mother and daughter and wanted to create products that would excite and empower them.
There's often an expectation placed on women in charge that they need to be cutthroat to be competitive, but that's not true. Rather than focusing on my gender or any implied limitations I might bring to the job as a female and a mother, I always focused instead on my vision. I deliberately fostered an environment at OPI filled with warmth. After all, at the end of the day, your organization is only as good as its people. I've always found that being nice, being humble, and listening to others has served me well. Instead of pushing others down to get to the top, inspire them and bring them along on the journey.
You can read more about my personal and professional journey in my new memoir out now, I'm Not Really a Waitress: How One Woman Took Over the Beauty Industry One Color at a Time.