She was not the thinnest or the slimmest, nor was she dressed with flair or glamour, but there was something about her that exuberated confidence and pleasantness. Standing there at our meeting point, as I approached her I noticed a friendly and welcoming smile from her. I felt like I was meeting an old long lost friend, instead of a stranger.
Participants had to submit a photo via Facebook or Instagram and garner votes from the public. They will then be shortlisted and for a free makeover session and then ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures will be uploaded online for another round of voting. Top 20 finalists will be selected to attend the finale where they will stand a chance to win a fully-paid tour for two to Japan and gifts up to RM55,000. It all sounds fancy and exciting but then Ashley discovered one major problem: the voting system to be shortlisted was flawed.
Despite gathering a staggering number of votes (nearly 1.4k votes!), and getting the support from people everywhere, the judges from Panasonic did not approve and she was not shortlisted. Overcome by disappointment and feeling like she let all her supporters down, she took to Facebook to write about her experience.
Issues With The Shortlisting Procedure
Ashley herself sent an email to Panasonic, and after 4-5 hours they replied saying that the list for the shortlisted ones were final. She sent another email asking them if they were looking for specific physical attributes in their contestants. Panasonic replied 2 days later (perhaps after realising that the situation was getting out of hand and they had to do some damage control) with a lengthy email, explaining that the judges’ decision was final and that the candidates were selected 30% based on votes from the public, and 70% based on the judges.
This, however, seems rather questionable.
1. The picture shared by Panasonic states that the ‘next round qualification will be based on public vote and judges’ decision’. ‘Next round’ sounds like it’s referring to selecting the finalists from the 216 shortlisted participants.
2. According to the terms and conditions (yes, I am aware it states that the organiser’s decision is final), the online votes and judges’ evaluation only come into play for choosing the finalists, and not for the shortlisted ones.
So this is all very confusing, how DO the judges choose the shortlisted ones if not by going according to the number of votes? And if it was truly based on the votes (30%) and judges (70%), then they have failed to make that clear from the beginning of the competition.
Why Did She Do It?
She had entered the competition knowing that she would be probably up against girls who fulfil the general predictable standards of beauty: tall, slim, fair, and model-like. But she entered the competition anyway with one sole goal: to change the perception of beauty in the society.
“If I’m not going to do it, then who else is going to do it?” she asked with a strong sense of conviction when I sat down to speak with her about her experience and what drove her to join the beauty competition.
“My mom told me not to have my hopes too high because the system will always win, society wins. Why do you think there are a lot of girls committing suicide? It is because of this. I’ve had enough of this nonsense and so I thought I have to do something,” she recalled.
When asked about how she felt about joining the competition and the need for beauty competitions that are divided according to the size of the models (‘normal’ models and plus-sized models), Ashley said, “The problem with society, we like to categorise things. It’s easier for people to manage one category at a time, having put everyone into one is too much variety. But that is why I joined this competition, I thought it would be the first in the country that would not be focused on size, but more on confidence and loving yourself. Those are two important aspects that they were looking for in the winner.”
She had a point, after all, the whole competition was named “I Love Myself”.
There Is Hope For Society Yet
Being bombarded by commercials and advertisements with skinny and tall women with huge busts, one would think that the minds of society and the young generation would be shallow and close-minded. However, Ashley was surprised to be proven wrong.
She entered the competition thinking that she would receive a lot of negative responses and some of her acquaintances felt that she was being overconfident. Despite receiving only a small number of hate comments at the beginning of her entry into the competition, the overall responses have been positive and encouraging. In fact, she did not even receive any hate messages from anyone.
“Not just strangers from Malaysia, but even those from U.S., Canada, have showed support and this shows that society is not as sick as we think it is,” she added, “The whole journey has proven me wrong because total strangers everywhere have showed support and that is really amazing.”
So then where does the problem lie? Perhaps it lies in the organisations and major companies that still believe that people are caught up by the stereotypical standards of beauty. “When you give power to people who are more ignorant, the choices that they make will reflect on their ignorance,” said Ashley.
Since the exposure of Panasonic Beauty’s decision, angry supporters started to flood Panasonic Beauty’s Facebook page with their frustrated and disgruntled rants towards the judges. Some have even went as far as to rally others to boycott the brand.
Moving Forward From This Setback To Greater Goals
Despite this disappointing experience, Ashley clearly has other bigger goals in mind. Working as an English lecturer for a few years now, she strives to make a difference and change her students’ mindset on their perception of beauty and self acceptance.
“I use my own personal experience to teach students to love everyone equally and not discriminate. Loving yourself means loving yourself fully and not saying that you’re not pretty enough. Pre-university students are at the perfect time to change their mindsets and a lot of mindsets have been changed, and I’m very proud of that. That is my single proudest moment. It’s not about the money that you earn. It’s about the mindsets that you change, and that’s the best thing I can ask for. I love my job and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.”
Speaking from her personal struggles, she identifies with the issues that girls face when it comes to accepting their body, “This is what you see now, but before this, I was way bigger. I changed my diet and lifestyle and became healthier. The way you love your life matters. No matter how amazing something is, people still like to nitpick. So change more for health and not to please others, as long as you are happy and you love your body.”
Ashley also plans to write a book to share her experience and impact more lives. “I do have a lot to write about to tell people to be themselves and not worry about what others have to say and get affected by it. I have friends who thought they were not worth it, they were not good enough, and I do not want that to happen to others,” she said passionately about her future goals.
“I have students calling each other fat, real skinny girls calling each other fat. Parents asking their daughter to eat less because she needs to lose weight, when in actual fact she is fine and healthy, which is causing her to be depressed,” she shared.
When asked about what she felt about slim or skinny girls who often share their pictures on social media, complaining about their weight and size, she said, “I feel like they need to be sat down and talked to. Get them to understand and ask them to stop that and love themselves because there is nothing wrong with them. They keep nitpicking on what they feel is not right, like their ‘chubby cheeks’. I want to tell them ‘if you have any smaller cheeks, you’re gonna look weird’.”
And as for the use of make-up, “If you want to use make-up to look better and to take better pictures, that’s fine. But if there is a fear of going out of the house without make-up, then something is wrong,” she pointed out.
Her Source Of Motivation And Drive
Ashley does seem to have big dreams and to change the whole perception of beauty is not an easy task, but she has a strong motivating force that drives and inspires her, and that is her family.
“My family is very close-knit, and my parents is my strength because even with the support from friends, family is always there first and they inspire me to do great things,” Ashley expressed gratefully.
Personally, I feel that the organisers from Panasonic Beauty did a horrible job at handling the whole situation. If they were smarter, they would have shortlisted Ashley and used that to their advantage by saying that they do not discriminate against the contestants and they welcome all contestants who are true to the ‘I Love Myself’ tagline. Just because one is larger in size, darker in colour, shorter in height, or has certain physical abnormalities, does not mean that one is not beautiful.
Showing her love for animals as she animatedly talked to me about saving a house lizard from drowning in her sink, and her love for her family and friends, Ashley is clearly beautiful – inside and out. And most importantly, she loves and accepts herself the way she is.