Beauty Diplomacy
Embodying an Emerging Nation
Oluwakemi M. Balogun


Contents and Abstracts
1 The Nigerian Factor
chapter abstract

This chapter focuses on the "Nigerian factor," a common phrase used to designate Nigeria's "it-factor," or special qualities, which make the country especially difficult to navigate but also speak to the uniqueness that makes Nigeria stand out. Insiders position the Nigerian pageant industry within the context of the country's status as an emerging nation, where beauty contests showcase Nigeria's precarious status in the political economy and its complicated, contentious politics. The chapter examines the concept of emerging nation through three logics: crisis politics, which highlights Nigeria's incessant problems; redemptive politics, which seeks to recover the country's poor reputation; and mirage politics, which acknowledges that things are not always as they appear. These contested forms of representation situate the Nigerian beauty pageant industry as constitutive of complex meanings around gender, power, and belonging.

2 Snapshots of Nigerian Pageantry
chapter abstract

This chapter provides an overview of the history of the beauty pageant industry in Nigeria. Focusing primarily on the rise, the fall, and the subsequent return of the first national beauty pageant, Miss Nigeria, which was first held in 1957, this chapter provides context to understand how beauty pageants became embodied symbolic representations of the nation. It details the origin and development of the Nigerian beauty pageant industry through the shift over the last six decades, from a country reveling in its postcolonial independence to an emerging nation self-consciously positioned within the international political economy. The chapter examines nostalgic-nationalism, a longing for the past as a means of securing a hopeful future; cultural-nationalism, which involves valuing Nigerian customs and unifying Nigeria's diverse population in the face of rapid globalization; and cosmopolitan-nationalism, a strategy focused on positioning Nigeria at the forefront of international trends.

3 The Making of Beauty Diplomats
chapter abstract

This chapter focuses on how Nigerian beauty queens strive to embody specific ideals about class and sexual respectability, thereby positioning themselves in contrast to representations of other women. Contestants employ a type of aesthetic labor to pursue broader nationalist agendas. Through their bodies, and specifically their voices, walks, and smiles, they present themselves as public figures—representatives of "ordinary people"—whose celebrity gives them access to elites they can lobby to promote their concerns in the national arena through a narrative of beauty diplomacy. By using well-honed aesthetic capital to present themselves as having the "the total package," contestants seek to bypass traditional venues of upward mobility, instead using the pageant world as a means of getting ahead, but face a set of structural and symbolic realities that constrain their aspirations.

4 Miss Cultural and Miss Cosmopolitan
chapter abstract

This chapter focuses on how intranational dynamics such as religion and ethnicity shape differing sets of skills, debates over appearance, and audience participation to embody distinct versions of gendered nationhood. The Queen Nigeria Pageant took a tactile approach. The object of adopting this approach was to focus on tangible cultural familiarity and stress unifying the nation by employing a mantra of "unity in diversity" that actively sought to recognize specific cultural elements of each state through a federation model of the nation. The Most Beautiful Girl in Nigeria Pageant used a tactical approach, which was focused on cultural discovery and emphasized globalizing the nation by focusing on securing its place as a "global leader" of internationally renowned pageants to express Nigeria's competitiveness on a world stage.

5 The Business of Beauty
chapter abstract

This chapter examines how various stakeholders—namely, groomers, owners, personal sponsors, and corporate sponsors—benefit financially and symbolically from Nigerian beauty competitions. In Nigeria, owners of beauty pageants, most of whom are middle-aged male entrepreneurs, use these events to establish political access to key government officials and to attract investment in their organizations from a wide variety of corporations, from local businesses to multinationals. They do so in a context in which perceptions about Nigeria's questionable business ethics seep into the underbelly of Nigerian pageants. To counteract these perspectives, stakeholders recast their endeavors as engaging in "respectable entrepreneurship" that allows women to get ahead and gain a greater foothold in Nigeria's political economy, while also boosting the nations' business culture through economic reform efforts.

6 As Miss World Turns
chapter abstract

Government officials, journalists, and pageant affiliates celebrated Nigeria's crowning moment as the first Black African to win the Miss World Pageant, one of the largest international beauty competitions, as a monumental achievement that signaled the country's promising future. The next year, buoyed by excitement over this victory, organizers placed a bid to host the Miss World Pageant in Nigeria. However, the pageant was ultimately moved to London due to a series of protests, which ballooned into a public relations nightmare. This chapter analyzes how debates about globalization and Nigeria's national trajectory played out through discourses surrounding the protection of women's bodies. The aspirations of Nigerian pageant organizers to present a modern, rising Nigeria were ultimately crushed. Opponents within the country perceived the contest as an artifact of Western influence rather than a triumphant entry onto the global stage.

7 After the Spotlight
chapter abstract

The concluding chapter reinforces the argument that aesthetic economies and civic institutions such as Nigeria's beauty pageant industry are not just sites of entertainment but also provide multiple ways of envisioning the nation. I discuss some of the changes to the Nigerian pageant industry and describe how the concept of gendered diplomacy can be extended to arenas outside beauty pageants.