Behind the Dress brings the true meaning of beauty to the forefront
Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, but for Behind the Dress writer and director Elena Semikina there’s more to it than just a smile and evening gown.
The 2010 Miss Universe Canada has spent the past year working away on her documentary that showed in September at the Golden Door Film Festival.
Behind the Dress was a labour of love for Semikina, who wanted to brush aside the stereotypes associated with beauty pageantry and bring to light the humanitarian work associated with it, as well as its role as an engine for empowerment of women and a forum for social change.
“There is definitely a stigma,” she says of pageantry, just a day after returning from Jersey City. “We talk about it in the film: ‘Yes, we’re being judged, and we know about it. It’s actually up to us to handle that pressure and judgement because people judge each other all the time.'”
The Yonge and St. Clair resident regards pageantry as “good for self-development.”
“If you learn how not to pay attention (to judgment) and do your thing, that’s what matters,” she says. “So you learn how to brush it off.”
Filming took place right in the thick of the 2012 Miss Universe pageant, where one of the contestants, Jenna Talackova, made history by being the first transgender contestant.
Talackova took legal action to force rule changes that would allow her to compete. She ultimately won the Miss Congeniality Award.
In Semikina’s view Talackova used the event as “a platform for social rights.”
Semikina also focused on the many reasons why girls compete. More than just a tiara, she asserts, they want the ability to enact change around the world.
Christine Adela White was competing for the Ride to Conquer Cancer. Majd Soudi travelled to Jordan to raise money for schools and orphanages there, and Denise Garrido spent two months in India on a mission to diagnose blood disorders.
One concern for Semikina in making the documentary, though, was the potential for politically correct answers. But the ladies “really focused on putting their best face forward,” she says.
“I was totally surprised that I was able to get honest answers. Most of the footage, the interviews were done during the show. They had to rehearse (in the meantime). It was stressful for them.”
Over-all, she says, she wants people to look beyond the pageant.
“I really want the audience to take a look at who Jenna is, and who the girls are,” she notes. “I hope that they will change the stereotype about the girls, and realize some of the girls are there for more than just makeup and dresses.
“And I really hope they won’t judge people at first glance.”