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Cameroon Pageant: Only Plump Beauties Need Apply

Over the years, Africans have emulated Western beauty pageants, which celebrate slender women. But in Cameroon, some are saying more is better. A recent contest featured only women weighing 90 kg and above. Reporter Ntaryike Divine, Jr., reports from Douala, Cameroon, that the concept is attracting a considerable following.

There's a new Miss Mama Kilo.She's 24-year-old Palestine Blanche Manga Maka, and she weights 105 kilograms. The unmarried winner is a mother of two who works in a restaurant.

The pageant is now in its third year and attracted hundreds of contestants. But only ten made the final cut. The judges included government officials, journalists, beauticians and the public.

Weighty topics and tough competition

The Miss Mama Kilo finalists thrilled the audience with their seductive strutting and dancing.

The women were judged not just on their girth, but on their ability to talk about serious topics, like disease prevention, caring for street kids and other social issues. They also had to show a mastery of one of Cameroon's over 250 local languages, as well as more traditional skills – like how to cook traditional cuisine and do housekeeping.

Winner Palestine Blanche Manga Maka had some tough competition.

She was flanked on the podium by first and second runners-up. They were 23-year-old marketing student Line Tsafack, coming in at 144 kg, and Moumbe Blanche, an unemployed 32-year-old woman weighing 93 kg.

And a major attraction was a 47-year-old mother of nine, Rose Tchakomokoueng, weighing 110 kg. Judges awarded her the fair play crown for her humility and willingness to compete against younger contestants.

The top winner, Manga, took home a cash prize of 500 dollars, many cosmetic products, year-long beauty care subscriptions, a weekend at a Cameroonian seaside resort, a trip for two to a nice hotel in neighboring Gabon and the promise of a leisure trip to Italy.

But the new Miss Mama Kilo says her biggest prize can not be measured with a scale or measuring tape.

Emotional Payoff

She says the competition has enabled her to build greater self-esteem and confidence in her abilities. Palestine Blanche says people now respect her, whereas in the past, her size made her an object of mockery. The restaurateur says she can now boldly stand up in public anywhere in the world and express herself without any feelings of inferiority, and is even hopeful she will find a more lucrative job.

And that's the motivating idea behind the plump women's beauty pageant, which was launched in 2006 and has been held every year since then. The concept seeks to change the generally negative public perception of plump women. Plump men, on the other hand, are seen to be wealthy and healthy.

Moise Bangteke, a well-known radio announcer at the state broadcaster CRTV, is head of the Miss Mama Kilo organizing committee. His wife, musician Nadia Ewande,created the pageant.

He says it's been observed that plump women are generally marginalized to the extent some become so shy they can't speak in public. He says in bids to match beauty standards in the West, some plump African women are following grueling diets or are consuming alarming amounts of weight-loss medications that could possibly kill them. He says the contest seeks to help plump women surmount their shyness and begin to build on their hidden endowments.

The Miss Mama Kilo contest has sparked debate. Doctors say overweight women are more vulnerable to ailments like cardiovascular disease and diabetes. But on the other hand, some men avoid slim women out of fear they may be more sexually active, and carry HIV. Yet other men say as long as a woman is beautiful and intelligent, size does not matter. Meantime, the concept has so charmed local and foreign admirers that it may soon be exported to Europe. A Cameroonian woman now living in Italy is partnering with the creators of the Miss Mama Kilo contest to organize a similar beauty pageant for African women in Europe.