The male beauty pageant is an annual fundraiser staple for many rural New Zealand primary schools. A night out at the local town hall where men from the surrounding farming community parade their stuff wearing an inventive array of feminine ensembles, to the adult-only crowd of supporters and sponsors.
At the Ms Waitakaruru contest, the backstage revelry is a joyful, bawdy and curious vision of delicate beauty preparations, ‘heterosexual’ flirting and inelegant beer consumption. Some of the men are instantly transformed with false eyelashes and wigs into their feminine counterparts - “stop standing like that, you’re turning me on!” While others, in spite of coconut shell bikinis and clingy dresses, can never depart their masculine physicality - “sorry mate, you’re no pretty woman”. The jokes abound as the men delight in checking each other out. Nevertheless, nerves rise before each contestant takes to the stage wearing impossibly high or ‘sensible’ heels, to handpicked songs - “I’m a barbie girl, in a barbie world...”
The suited school headmaster is the brave host of the evening, who superbly navigates the rolling high spirits, the thrusting of hips and surprise antics from the contestants. It’s the men’s special night after all and as he wryly reminds the crowd - “they’re doing it for the children”. And while it took much liquid courage to kick things off, it’s soon hard to get these contestants off the stage. Each glittering star gladly answers questions about world peace and self-sacrifice in high pitched voices, while in the background their rivals attempt to steal thunder.
The audience’s revelries also rise with the spiralling pantomime - all transfixed with watching beloved husbands, brothers and neighbours turn wives, sisters and ‘the girl next door’ for the night. Who ever knew their men could move like that or speak in such delicate, sweet voices?
Finally, the dessert platters are served by the ‘real’ women present, mothers and teachers who’ve been working tirelessly behind the scenes, as the judges take stock of their scores...
The winner is chosen and Ms Waitakaruru is crowned. She is gracious and elegant in conduct, movement and speech, and as it so happens, the only one sober.
All photographs © Christopher Pryor