Life sure is hard when you’re a contestant at the Miss Universe pageant. In addition to wowing the judges with your swimsuit, your evening gown and your talent, you also have to be constantly on the lookout for quick-footed, iPhone-toting Israeli beauty queens who are dead-set on squeezing themselves into a selfie with you.
Or at least that’s what Miss Lebanon Saly Greige would have us believe.
The Lebanese contestant is accusing Miss Israel Doron Matalon of photobombing her, after a picture of the two beauty queens smiling side-by-side circulated on social media, causing an uproar in Lebanon. Because Israel and Lebanon are technically still at war, some Lebanese saw the selfie as evidence that Greige was consorting with the enemy, and called for her to be stripped of her title. Here’s how Greige defended herself on Instagram:
“Since the first day of my arrival to participate to Miss Universe, I was very cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel, who tried several times to take a photo with me. I was having a photo with Miss Japan, Miss Slovenia, suddenly Miss Israel jumped in and took a selfie, and uploaded it on her social media.”
Did Miss Israel really photobomb Miss Lebanon, or is that just Greige’s excuse?
The fact that Greige is smiling calmly in the photo seems to undermine her story, as many social media users have pointed out. Plus, the idea that Matalon has been chasing her around throughout the Miami pageant, repeatedly trying to force her into a frame, is, well, a bit hard to swallow.
But hey, who knows. It’s not entirely clear what happened, so let’s not presume to speak for Greige. Instead, let’s focus on the one thing that is clear: Lebanese people are trying to police this young woman’s body.
If anything, the real outrage here is that (a) Greige feels the need to apologize or explain away this photo because (b) social media users in Lebanon think it’s their right to strip away her crown (she’s the pageant titleholder for Miss Lebanon 2014) whenever they don’t agree with her perceived opinion on Middle East politics.
First off, it’s ridiculous to assume there’s any kind of purposeful political messaging in this photo. Every young woman at these pageants is constantly posing in photos with every other young woman, and then uploading the images to social media. That just is what you do there.
But if you’re a Miss Universe aficionado who does think Greige (or Matalon) was trying to make some sort of political statement, consider this: If beauty pageants aren’t just about objectifying women’s bodies — as those who take an interest in beauty pageants love to claim — then doesn’t each contestant get to have a mind of her own? Then shouldn’t each woman have the right to make whatever kind of statement she wants to make?
No, you’ll argue, because she’s not there representing herself — she’s there representing her country. But what you’re really saying then is that she is, and should be, nothing more than a mouthpiece for the state and, more than that, your vision for the state. A beauty queen is a meaningless decoration, a pretty face, whose job it is to parrot your viewpoints and nothing more. In which case, how can you even justify watching these pageants to begin with?
The great irony of this whole uproar is that those who hate the photo hate it because they see it as proof that these women are trying to build bridges between their nations — which is, you know, kind of what Miss Universe is supposed to be all about.
After all, isn’t the 30-second interview question at the end of these pageants always some iteration of “What’s the most important thing we can do to promote world peace?”
This year, it looks like Matalon’s got the perfect ready-made answer: photobombing yourself into selfies with your perceived enemies, of course!
Sigal Samuel is the former Opinion Editor at the Forward. When she’s not tackling race or identity politics, she’s hunting down her Indian Jewish family’s Kabbalistic secret society. Her novel THE MYSTICS OF MILE END tells the story of a dysfunctional family with a dangerous mystical obsession. Her writing has also appeared in The Daily Beast, The Rumpus, and BuzzFeed. Follow Sigal on Twitter.