KUALA LUMPUR, Aug. 12 — A recent article dubbing reigning Miss Universe Malaysia Kimberley Leggett as “too white” has angered young women, who told Bikyamasr.com the international media “does not really understand Malaysia or our people.”
Chinese-Malay Sohar, 20, believes people arguing that a Malaysian is “too white” need to look closer at the country’s history and its background.
“We have so many different people in this country it is hard to say if someone is too white or too dark. And at the end of the day, should it really matter?” she argued.
Her friend, Ousmanah, 21, a practicing Muslim who is sitting anxiously for the sun to go down so she can eat, understands what the article was attempting to say, but disagrees with its premise.
“I think what they were trying to point out is that Malaysia is a brown country and that by having a Miss Universe who is whiter than the rest of the country it sends a bad message to young girls in the country,” she began.
“But, this is not how we see it as Malaysian young women. The woman who won the contest is deserving and she did all she could to win, so we should support her. The color of her skin isn’t going to change us. We aren’t like India where we strive to be so white all the time. We are Malaysian and accept our people for who they are,” she added.
The controversy began in a July 14 article published by the International Business Times titled “The Politics of Beauty: Is Malaysia’s Miss Universe Contestant Too White?,” which highlighted Malaysia as a country that “tends towards fairer-skinned beauty” to represent it in the global pageant.
The writer argued that Leggett was “too white” for the country’s predominantly brown community.
“It’s stupid to make this point, because we hadn’t thought about it and now the international media is trying to portray Malaysia as racist. Its wrong,” added Sohar.
The article said: “That Leggett’s heritage is 75 per cent white raises interesting questions about Malaysian standards of beauty. Are Western norms changing the game?”
The writer continued to argue that Leggett, with “her hazel eyes and fair skin, could easily pass as a citizen of the Euro zone.” The article also highlighted the country’s racial fabric, saying that it was very much racially segregated in terms of politics.
Leggett has responded, saying she was offended by the accusations that she was not Malaysian enough: “I was … offended … because it spoils the good reputation of the pageant that is judged fairly, not by the color of a contestant’s skin.”
The 19-year-old beauty queen, who was born in Penang and is of Caucasian-Eurasian parentage, said she speaks Malay and understands the Hokkien and Cantonese dialects, both prominent in Malaysian society.
“Leggett can be a symbol for the tolerance and unique ethnic country that is Malaysia. To argue we have only one ethnicity is stupid and wrong. We are Chinese, Malay, Indian and white. Get over it world,” added Ousmanah.
Leggett, who studies at Taylor’s University in Malaysia, was quoted by The New Paper as saying, “I love durians. I am exactly like everyone else in the country.”
Miss Universe Malaysia 2012 finalist Sugeeta Chandran also defended Leggett, calling her “a true blue Malaysian.” “People say the best things in Malaysia can be found in Penang, and this is true of Kimberley,” she added. “She is a friendly local girl who often uses ‘lah’ in conversations, and even speaks in Bahasa Malaysia.”
National director Andrea Fonseka said the article was unfair to Malaysians and was uncalled for “We crown a girl because she deserves it, and to discriminate against fair-skinned girls because they don’t look Malaysian is detrimental.”
Ms Fonseka, who was crowned Miss Universe Malaysia in 2004 and is also of mixed parentage, said the article showed the writer’s ignorance about Malaysia’s multi-ethnic background. She added that the writer should have defined what a Malaysian look was.
“Malaysians are of all shapes, sizes and colours, and I think there is no one with a pure Malaysian look,” she said. “We are so culturally diverse that we cannot pin down a Malaysian look.”