Paraguay has found an original way to fight discrimination against overweight women.
Meet the third annual “Miss Gordita” beauty pageant, where contestants weigh in at 190 pounds or more.
The latest version of this peculiar beauty pageant was held at a nightclub in the Paraguayan capital of Asuncion on Friday night, with 15 contestants who paraded down the catwalk in elegant nightgowns and casual attire.
Participants and organizers told the EFE news agency that the pageant seeks to give more visibility to overweight women and raise their self esteem.
“I feel good as I am, my family accepts me, and my husband accepts me. I don't want to go back to that life of always dieting,” said Marlen Cabrear, a thirty-four-year old contestant from the town of Fernando de la Mora.
“All my life I've been fat, but I've been beautiful,” Montserrat Monges, a 24-year-old music teacher who ended up winning Friday's contest, told EFE. “I´m here to demonstrate that women must love themselves even if they're overweight.”
Other countries have also held beauty pageants for overweight women, including Israel, which holds an annual contest called “Miss Large.”
But in Paraguay the “Miss Gordita,” contest also highlights a growing health problem in that country.
Fifty seven percent of Paraguayans suffer from obesity, according to Paraguay´s health ministry, meaning that this tiny nation of seven million people has one of the worst obesity rates in the hemisphere.
Michael Beras, the event's organizer, described Paraguay as a country of contradictions.
“It´s not easy to celebrate Miss Gordita,” Beras told EFE. “Paraguay is contradictory, there are many women and men who suffer from obesity, but they're discriminated against.”
Beras believes that beauty pageants can raise the visibility of groups of people that are discriminated against, and help others to appreciate them.
He also produces a beauty pageant featuring dark skinned women, and another one for women with tattoos called “miss bad girls.”
The Miss Gordita contest was broadcast on Paraguayan TV and last years version led to a TV program in which participants showed what they were doing to lose weight.
EFE reports that this year, some of the contestants ended the night at a local burger joint across from the event's venue, where, “without the slightest remorse” they chowed down on Paraguayan “lomito” sandwiches, made with lamb, eggs and salad.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.