News, features, and commentary from the biggest city in the Americas, Mexico City.
By Bailey Cook —
When I was fresh off the boat in Mexico City I had no idea how to find a job. So when an Australian guy at the hostel I was staying in announced he was going to check out an English language school some other Australian guy recommended to him, I tagged along. After some pretty awkward 15-minute Spanglish interviews, we were both hired!
Our qualifications of being English speaking foreigners with warm smiles and a complete ignorance of the average wage for teaching ESL in the city was all it took to win them over and before we knew it we had our first clients, the most beautiful women in all of Mexico.
Or, more exactly, the most beautiful women in all of Mexico who met certain rigid height and weight requirements, and didn’t consider beauty pageants to be an antiquated and embarrassing experience for all involved. That is what it takes to be part of Nuestra Belleza Mexico, this country’s training camp for aspiring candidates to be Miss Universe, Miss World, or Miss International.
Classes were held at the Televisa Studios in San Angel, where most of the beauty queens’ training regiment took place. These were girls who had already won several local competitions and were so good at looking pretty in a bikini and giving vague but positive answers they were selected to represent their country in international competitions.
We were introduced to the girls by a fellow teacher, E, who barely spoke any English, and who “taught” by lecturing about obscure English grammar he didn’t even understand and was usually wrong about.
He spent most of his classes ogling the girl’s cleavage. My Australian friend, J, and I were each assigned a girl to teach, but after the first two classes we decided to form a big group class to make it easier on ourselves (which we later found out was in direct violation of our contract, thanks to E ratting us out).
We had a list of standard pageant questions to ask, which included such hits as “Who is the biggest inspiration in your life?” (God help you if you didn’t immediately answer “my mother”) and “Who has it easier, men or women?” There was even a list of controversial topics ranging from abortion to gay marriage to narco-trafficking.
Answering these questions was basically a matter of who could come up with the most PC, non-offensive response possible, which usually meant avoiding the question all together and going on a rant about how much they loved their families.
Despite all this, the first group of girls was alright. They were down-to-Earth and basically nice. Probably not the kind of people I would befriend of my own free will, but the kind of people I would nod politely to if we happened to share a class together or something. The worst thing they did was make us go shoe shopping once with another beauty queen who had just lost her pageant. However, we were on the clock and getting paid, so who can really complain?
My next student wasn’t so nice or down-to-Earth. She called herself an architect even though after a few follow up questions it was obvious she was actually studying interior design. She literally had no hobbies or interests outside of being pretty, and much like the president, she could not name three books that had inspired her (or, if my theory is to be believed, three books she had read).
She was basically the cliché airhead beauty queen who planned on wafting through life based solely on her good looks. Her eyes would glaze over when she mentioned modeling contracts.
As you can probably tell, she about marked my end in the beauty queen teaching business. After that I moved on to teaching 11-year-olds at an art school, because I felt I needed to teach someone a little more mature and intelligent.
While in training, the queens have to move to the city. They take a semester off school to enter into an intensive training regime which is composed of: English classes, “culture” classes (or, how to answer questions about your country without looking like a complete buffoon), dance classes, pose/elegance classes, make-up and hairstyling classes, and lastly, weight training and cardio sessions at the gym.
Trying to be the next Miss Universe is basically a full-time job. On the bright side, all of this training is completely free, along with getting to stay in a nice house in San Angel and having your own personal chofer. The food is also all free, but it’s mostly just small portions of grilled chicken breasts, vegetables, and weird green juices.
Another freebie in the budget is lipo-suction and plastic surgery on the girl’s “trouble areas”.
The operations at Nuestra Belleza Mexico are run by a former Miss Universe competitor (who I’ll refrain from naming), though I will say that based on what I saw, she was not the nicest human being I’ve encountered. “Terrifying” might be a more appropriate word. I have only had the displeasure of meeting her a few times, but that was enough to see her basically as the 101 Dalmations‘ Cruela Deville come-to-life.*
The Mock Pagaeants
In addition to my teaching duties, I was also called upon to be the English judge at two mock practice pageants. The contestants went through all of the steps of a real pageant in front of an audience of their coaches, Miss Cruela Deville, and random men whose presence I couldn’t explain.
These were perhaps the most pathetic, sexist, and plain cruel things I have ever witnessed. But hey, a girl’s gotta eat and these usually ended up being three or four hours worth of pay for me.
Basically you had two beautiful girls, parading around almost nude and trying to have their brains not explode as they answered a slew of serious questions and cat walked in extremely high heels. The worst part was the bathing suit section, where this group of mostly middle-aged, fat men angrily criticized the girl’s bodies.
One moment in particular sticks out. A male fitness coach went up to one of the girls and started grasping at non-existent fat near her hip.
“WHAT IS THIS? What is THIS? Is this FAT? I swear to god this better just be water. This. CAN NOT be there on the day of the pageant.”
I recall another moment after the contestants completed a lackluster dance routine, Miss Deville looked like she was about to have a seizure, as she yelled at them.
“You are women! Your body is your weapon! Sexuality is your weapon! You must convince us that your body is sex, you must exude sex. This dance said nothing about sex! It was like children dancing at a Mother’s Day parade. If you don’t use your bodies as weapons of your sexuality, you will never win anything or go anywhere.”
A common criticism was that the girls were not “fierce” enough, or not “bitch” enough. Apparently, sweet girls don’t win, and “nice” is just another word for personality-less bore.**
As far as I know, none of the girls I taught or even met ever went on to win their respective pageants, or even made it past the first round.
And most of them opted out of answering in English, making all of my work with them basically useless.
*I fear for my life if she ever discovers this article, if I am to die by “accident” or “suicide”, you know your first suspect.
**All criticisms poorly translated from the original Spanish.