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Miss Malaysia not Malaysian enough?

Leggett, a Penang girl of mixed parentage, has been criticised by a US newspaper as being too Caucasian and not truly representative of Malaysia. (PHOTO: THE STAR)

Publication Date : 12-08-2012


A debate is swirling in Malaysia over the country's beauty queen Kimberley Leggett. Apparently, she is too "Caucasian" for her critics.

The Penang girl of mixed parentage was crowned Miss Universe Malaysia last November, but has been accused of not being representative of her country, in a recent article in the US-based newspaper International Business Times (IBT).

Malaysians have hit back, saying there is no such thing as a typical Malaysian look, and that Leggett has earned her right to represent the country at the international finals in December.

A July 14 article in the IBT, "The Politics of Beauty: Is Malaysia's Miss Universe Contestant Too White", said the 19-year-old model is not truly representative of Malaysia because of her strong "Caucasian heritage".

The writer, who is not named, also said the pageant has "tended towards fairer-skinned candidates" in recent years.

It is unclear why the US newspaper, little known in Malaysia prior to this article, would comment on a beauty pageant half a world away. IBT says on its website that it is based in New York and has editions in eight other countries, the nearest to Malaysia being in Australia.

Leggett's father is British and her mother is Malaysian, The New Straits Times said last November.

Yet, there had already been murmurings in Malaysian Internet forums on whether Leggett was too "Mat Salleh", the Malaysian slang for Caucasian, when she won the national pageant last year, as noted in a column in The New Sunday Times last December.

One netizen wrote at the time: "She is not authentic enough, and looks too much like Twilight's Kristen Stewart."

But the columnist pointed out that Leggett made it to the national finals through a popular vote, and had affirmed her love for Malaysia when she was asked about her Caucasian looks.

In response to the IBT article, The Star newspaper ran a series of stories over the past week showing support for Leggett. In a story last Wednesday, it noted that she speaks English and Malay, and understands Hokkien and Cantonese.

Leggett told the paper that she was offended by the article.

"I may not look like the average Malaysian but I am very much local. Why am I being picked on for looking a certain way?" she said.

She added that she loves durians, "like everyone else in the country".

Former Malaysian beauty queen Andrea Fonseka, now national director of the Miss Universe Malaysia Organisation, told Bernama news agency that the article showed the writer's ignorance about the multi-ethnic background in the country.

"Yes, predominantly we are Malay, Chinese and Indian. But we also have many other ethnic groups.

"So don't draw judgment on the society's culture and country that you don't know about," she was quoted as saying.

Fonseka - who has previously featured in Singapore television programmes - added that there was no such thing as a "Malaysian look".

"Malaysians are of all shapes, sizes and colours and I think there is no one with a pure Malaysian look. We are so culturally diverse that we cannot pin down a Malaysian look," she said.


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