Stealing Beauty, Russian Style

Whatever else a beauty contest is, it isn't a democracy. Except in Russia, where it may be the only real democracy around.

The plan was to let the people, and not merely a panel of judges, choose the Russian entrant for the Miss Universe contest. A bevy of post-Bolshevic beauties was duly nominated and their pictures and vital statistics displayed on a Web site.

But as CBS News Correspondent Mark Phillips reports, Russian democracy, as we've learned, makes its own rules.

"We really had some crazy time when we tried to figure out what was going on - why she was number one," says Ivan Zassousky, the contest organizer.

Onto the virtual catwalk strode the unorthodox figure, for a beauty queen, of Alyona Pisklova, not her real name. Originally nominated by her friends as a good-natured joke, she was the runaway winner.

"I'm just the way I like to be," she says in Russian.

And what the voters apparently liked was that she wasn't like all the other contestants.

She's become the focus for a "No Barbie Doll" backlash campaign.

"Alyona's message to the world is be yourself and you'll be happy," says Zassousky. "Don't try to be like media tell you you should be. Don't try to be like that girl in advertising."

The Russians have always had some difficulty reconciling image with reality. In the old Soviet days the propaganda value of fit socialist womanhood often contrasted with the results of a diet heavy on potatoes and a lifestyle light on exercise.

In Moscow, Alyona was not crowned the new beauty queen. She was disqualified for being too young and given a consolation prize. Someone else will represent the new Russia, but everybody knows who the real winner was.
  • Jaime Holguin

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