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Surviving the Miss Ex-Yugoslavia Beauty Pageant

by: Sumit Chaulagain
10 June, 2018

Ms. Stefanovic hosts the literary salon “Women of Letters, New York” and “This Alien Nation,” a monthly celebration of immigration, and is a regular storyteller with The Moth. Her memoir, “Miss Ex-Yugoslavia,” has just been published.

In 2005, when I was 22, I was in a beauty pageant, and it involved wearing a bikini and high heels. The pageant was Miss Ex-Yugoslavia, a small event run by the ex-Yugoslavian community of Melbourne, Australia. It wasn’t televised to the world, as the Miss America competitions are, but all my mom’s friends were there, as was my family’s dentist, so I got to experience the chill that runs up your spine when you’re being ogled by people you don’t desire.

The winner of Miss Ex-Yugoslavia would get a ticket “back home,” to whichever part of ex-Yugoslavia she wanted to visit

Most of the competitors were in it for the ticket. Some were in it because their parents had pressured them. Several actually liked the idea of being judged on their looks, which they were proud of.

I’d entered the pageant because I was a precocious film student and I wanted to film it — yet now the fear of the bikini had taken hold. Backstage, we agreed that we most dreaded that segment — a real-life version of one of those nightmares where you’re suddenly naked and everyone’s staring at you.

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