remembering miss universe 1971
Last Thursday night, my mother proudly proclaimed, “check out my smokey eye - don’t you think I look like Georgina Rizk?”
My mother, a lover of natural make-up and vintage fashion, seldom does a smokey eye. She’s an au naturale kind of woman and rarely opts for the sultry beauty standards of the Arab world. Yet, that night, my mother seemed particularly inclined towards a ‘smokey-eye’, and was quite proud of her ability to make dark eyeliner look good despite - in her opinion - her age. “I am so good at this, I could totally be a make up artist! You know, I could’ve been better than all these so-called designers in Europe, I could’ve been, you know, a true artist. If only I had the opportunities and exposure as a child…” she trails off. “Anyway, I definitely look like Georgina Rizk”.
In 1970, Lebanon announced Georgina Rizk the winner of the nation’s beauty pageant and crowned her Miss Lebanon. She was crowned Miss Universe in Miami, Florida only a year later. She was the first woman from the Middle East to be crowned Miss Universe, and only 4th in Asia to ever win the title. My mom must have been around 4 years old at the time.
For many young Arab women, Georgina Rizk was an icon. She was beautiful and symbolised a kind of “liberation” that was revered by the then youth of the Middle East. She controversially once said that she was “for pre-marital sex” and thought that women should “experiment” before making a commitment because “marriage is not a simple thing”. This, of course, did not go down well with the older generation, but many women in the region idolised her anyway.
In 1972, when Georgina Rizk was due to hand over the Miss Universe crown to her successor in Puerto Rico, 17 Christian pilgrims from the island were killed in an attack on Lod Airport in Tel Aviv by the Japanese Red Army - a militarised Communist group acting on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Ms Rizk was, despite having nothing to do with the incident, banned from attending the ceremony in Puerto Rico.
That year, my mom must’ve been 5 years old - her family in a state of disarray having only left Palestine five years prior. As refugees, my Grandmother collected her children - all 5 of them my mother being the youngest - and moved to Jordan. Without knowing it, so much of my mother’s potential would be defined by forces outside of her control. In the mid-80s, when the Soviet Union was still supporting Palestinian rights, my mother obtained a scholarship to study Fine Arts in Kiev, Ukraine. About a month before she was due to attend the University of Kiev, an earthquake devastated the capital. My grandmother wouldn’t let my mother leave and my mother never got the chance to become the artist she wanted to be. My mom was, despite having nothing to do with the earthquake or the geopolitics of the region, forced to limit herself.
Georgina Rizk was banned from attending the Miss Universe ceremony in Puerto Rico due to “terrorist activities” which had nothing to do with her. The attacks were committed by the Japanese (she’s clearly not Japanese) on Occupied Palestinian soil (a place she is not from: her father is Lebanese and mother Hungarian). Funnily enough, a few years after the attack on Lod Airport, Ms. Rizk married a Palestinian man who was responsible for attacks during the 1972 Olympics in Munich (he was assassinated by the Mossad in 1979).
In many ways, Georgina Rizk’s life was defined for her too.
. . .
Many people think that Occupation and colonialism end at check points and borders but for me, it’s been inside my home my entire life. I look back at the privileges that my parents never got to experience simply because of their history and, therefore, the privileges I never got either. I sometimes wonder what “could have been” - I can’t escape the could-have-would-have. I guess its a symptom of inter-generational trauma.
Despite all this, my mother thoroughly enjoys a Thursday night smokey-eye courtesy of Georgina Rizk, Miss Universe 1971.