In Baghdad, a Pause for Beauty

(Andrea Bruce/The Washington Post) VIEW FULL PHOTO GALLERY

Young boys chase each other through an arch of balloons and crowd onto the stage with cellphones and small cameras. The humid ballroom is packed with long tables strewn with the remains of dinner. Men sit back in their banquet chairs, chewing on toothpicks, ready to hear the results of the Hunting Club Beauty Pageant.

The judges, three women and two men, are seated on the stage behind a table. They whisper and scribble notes. One judge gnaws a cigar. The woman next to him holds her cigarette with long, fake nails.

The contestants are dressed in rather plain Western attire. Skirts with black knee-high boots. No head scarves. Tight jeans with shirts tucked in. Lots of makeup, almost doll-like. Pasty-pale and red-circle cheeks -- a popular look in Iraq. No swimsuit or evening gown competition.

This is Baghdad's first public beauty pageant since the war started in 2003.

After a short discussion among the judges, Shamis Arif, 17, is named queen. Dressed in jeans and high heels, she blushes but stands tall, trying to hold a smile and hold back nervous laughter. Her brother and his friends, all in black leather coats, lead the crowd in cheers and whistles. Little girls stand on chairs, staring. Shamis accepts her crown with a meek thank you.

When she steps off the stage, she hugs her family but loses her smile. People are leaving the hall quickly, trying to beat the traffic. Her mother swiftly removes the crown, putting it in her purse, and hands her daughter a sheer scarf.

The Hunting Club Queen raises the scarf and rests it lightly on her head. Looking at the ground, she makes her way to the car.

By Andrea Bruce

By  |  December 14, 2008; 9:00 PM ET  | Category:  Baghdad
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How nice! Back to normal existence, courtesy of the US military and the American people...this is heartwarming, surprised the WP ran a POSITIVE story about progress in Iraq!

Posted by: DorothyfromColumbus | December 15, 2008 1:49 AM

I don't know if I'd necessarily call this positive just because women can be judged on their looks now, instead of the mere fact that they are a women.

Posted by: aprlangl05 | December 15, 2008 4:01 AM

Yeah, young girls being judged based on their looks, that's a great idea. Yay.

Posted by: Akinoluna | December 15, 2008 4:45 AM

Great! Another stride forward for the women of Iraq.

Now, what about all the engineers, doctors, professionals that have been killed, raped and put under the burqa?

The invasion of Iraq was the biggest setback for the most gender-advanced community of professional Arab women.

Posted by: AsperGirl | December 15, 2008 4:47 AM

The ultimate show of progress in any civilized country is a beauty pageant, followed by strip-joints, and Penthouse playmates.

Only the sick people who started this war would consider this an excellent photo-op. It's revealing in how little they think of us, the reader, and how perverted they are, the neocons. Never again will we let this happen, never!

Posted by: Slang421 | December 15, 2008 5:10 AM

Ditto to AsperGirl.

A partial definition of neo-conservative:

A person wishing to impose America’s declining culture and values on the rest of the world through the use of brute military force. This is the deranged central tenet of The Project For The New American Century. They possess several common character traits, one is arrogance, another is narcissism, and yet another is ruthlessness.

They are propaganda machines that insist we all adopt a post 911 mindset, that danger lurks just around the around the corner, in the form of a radical Muslim. They like to refer to such people as “Islamists”, a word that hasn’t made it to the dictionary yet.

Hey you self-important people out there, tell me why, with the million of Muslims in America, there hasn’t been one single terrorist attack, not even a car smashing into a crowded whatever? I bet you’re sorry about that, aren’t you?

Posted by: Slang421 | December 15, 2008 6:48 AM

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