Belfast Telegraph

Stormont beauty pageant sparks row

Plans for a beauty pageant at the home of the Northern Ireland Assembly have sparked controversy.

The Miss Ulster competition has come in for criticism from some MLAs, who have highlighted that it is limited to young women between a size 8 and 12.

This weekend's event in Parliament Buildings is being jointly hosted by Assembly members Basil McCrea and John McCallister, of political party NI21, and SDLP MLA Dolores Kelly.

While Sinn Fein, DUP, Ulster Unionist and Alliance representatives have questioned the event, which is being staged in Stormont for the second time, its organiser Michelle McTernan has defended the contest, insisting it represented a rare "good news" story from the region's seat of government.

DUP Economy Minister Arlene Foster said staging the event in Stormont was sending out the wrong message.

"The Miss Ulster competition due to be held in Stormont with 'rules' for entrants to be between size 8 and 12 at its most benign sounds very like Father Ted's Lovely Girls competition," she said.

"With so many young girls facing peer pressure about their image, competitions structured like this are deeply unhelpful and could be damaging to their self-esteem. Beauty is not limited to girls between size 8 and 12."

Sinn Fein's Megan Fearon said the event was an embarrassment.

"The issue of equality for women has still not been achieved and promoting a competition where women compete against each only to be judged on their appearance reinforces the attitude of women as sex objects and second-class citizens and is embarrassing," she said.

"The fact that to enter this competition you need to meet a tight criteria also discriminates against the vast majority of women.

"This criteria has stereotyped the look that many young women believe they must match otherwise they are not attractive."

Ms McTernan denied the contest was degrading to women.

"Isn't it much more degrading to women to say they are incapable of making their own choices?" she asked.

"No one has forced the girls to take part in this contest - in fact we had overwhelming interest from young women from all over Northern Ireland who wanted to take part.

"Their confidence should be celebrated. Lots of girls aspire to be models and this type of contest is a safe way for them to dip their toe in the water and learn valuable lessons about themselves and their skills. If they want to pursue their dream to model or get involved in the beauty industry, then a contest like this will give them confidence and contacts.

"They are ambassadors for Northern Ireland and are projecting a happy, healthy image of our youth in a confident manner which will inspire others."

She said the entry criteria were not in her hands, as they were set by the organisers of the Miss Universe contest, which the winner on Saturday could ultimately be taking part in.

"I do, however, organise plus-size modelling competitions so there are doors and opportunities for girls over size 12 to enter future modelling competitions," she added.

Ms McTernan also insisted Parliament Buildings was a good choice of venue.

"This type of event shows Stormont is accessible to all - it is a public building - funded by public money - and there should be space for all to use it in what is ultimately a positive way," she said.

"This is a positive news story coming out of Stormont for a change."

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