Beauty pageants are often slammed for being "shallow" and focusing just on the outer looks of a woman. But in the year gone by, India got its first transgender beauty queen and Miss Peru pageant contestants broke stereotypes by sharing statistics on gender-based violence instead of body measurements.
A few months later, auditions were held in Delhi, Mumbai and Manipur for Miss Transqueen India. Its organiser, Reena Rai, told IANS that she wanted to promote transgenders because some of them are her friends and she knows "how they feel".
"If this pageant helps them to be more confident, then I don't see any harm in showing support to them," she said.
For the pageants' first runner-up Loiloi Haorongbam, it was a way to spread awareness about her community.
"We got to meet so many trans women from different parts of the country. We got to know about their cultures and how they lead their lives, their struggles. And after winning the second position, I am set to represent India in Thailand next year," she said.
It's certainly a great move, but how can there be beauty pageants without drama?
A week after the winners of the pageant were announced, fake mark sheets began to surface online.
"I don't know who did this, but we were not dethroned," said Haorongbam.
Would she blame the organisers who are new in the industry?
"No, but I felt disgusted," she said.
Apart from pageants championing the cause of transgenders, there was also a Miss Wheelchair World. It was the inaugural edition which took place in Warsaw in October. Its aim was to change the "image and attitude for the woman in wheelchairs".
Then there was the Miss & Mrs Curvy Queen 2017 that celebrated curves and provided all the "plus-size" beauties a platform.
It wasn't just this beauty pageant that didn't emphasise on the traditional body measurements.
Miss Peru pageant contestants, who represented different parts of the South American country, skipped sharing their body measurements (bust/waist/hips). Instead, they announced statistics on violence against women in Peru.
Mrs India Universe 2017-World Shreya Krishnan saw it as a good move.
"Vital statistics are probably a wrong way to measure fitness. If you want to be healthy, fit and happy, you don't have to be essentially of a specific size. There is some perception change that needs to be brought in... which some pageants are trying to do.
"They are moving away from the traditional requirement for having specific measurements. It should be emulated," she said.
"We gave a platform to mothers and their children so that they could express their feelings for one another. We often take for granted that all mothers love their children and vice-versa. They don't say it verbally. There was no age bar. Boys also participated," she said.
The concept is unique, but what about its success rate?
"We are not going to stop it. We will return for its second edition. It will happen in August 2018," said Malhotra.
If this isn't enough, the next year will see women from royal families vying for the "I Am Me Mrs Royal India 2018" title.
"The focus of the pageant will be on revival of old architecture, but the participants can also support causes related to wildlife or rivers. We are planning to involve government bodies as well," said transgender model Aizya Naaz Joshi, who has also conceptualised Mrs India Home Makers.
Stressing on the importance of a beauty pageant, she said: "I have interacted with many women. They want to live like a model at least once in their lifetime. So, I want to give them the joy and happiness of winning a crown and nice subtitles."
Going off the beaten path means having less support and, in this case, sponsors. While some put in their own money, others like Joshi "pull in money through kitty".
Still, they are raring to go.
(Natalia Ningthoujam can be contacted at email@example.com)
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