Miss Myanmar Stood Up to the Military During the Miss Universe Pageant. Now Prison Might Await Her Back Home
Miss Universe Myanmar Thuzar Wint Lwin stole everyone's attention during the Miss Universe 2020 pageant, but not with her dress, swimsuit, or runway walk. Instead, it was her simple placard, which read, "Pray for Myanmar," that captured the world's attention, a moment of seriousness in an otherwise light-hearted event.
While the words on her placard called for prayers and peace, it spoke of the deep political disaster currently gripping Myanmar. Earlier this year, the country's military junta seized power in a coup d'etat that has cost over 700 civilians their lives, detained over 3,000 protestors, and robbed the country of its democracy. For months, thousands of pro-democracy supporters have marched the streets of Myanmar, including its Miss Universe contestant, Wint Lwin.
“Our people are dying and being shot by the military every day,” she said in her final Q&A at the competition. “I would like to urge everyone to speak out about Myanmar. As Miss Universe Myanmar, since the military coup, I have been speaking out as much as I can.”
Her protest card helped her win first place in the National Costume segment of the show and revive international concern for the civil unrest in Myanmar. This beauty pageant contestant took her words from the streets of Myanmar to the stage of Miss Universe in Florida, U.S.A. But not without a cost.
Myanmar's military junta has been quick to call for the arrests of celebrities and "influencers" who speak out against the regime, and Wint Lwin fears she'll be next.
Before she left for the U.S.A. for the pageant, Wint Lwin anxiously awaited for the military to announce her name on its most wanted list. Over 5,000 outspoken celebrities have been issued arrest warrants, their fame doing nothing for their protection. But she was determined to bring her people's message to the world, and wore a hoodie and glasses at the Yangon Airport to avoid getting recognized or stopped at immigration.
After her very public protest, it wouldn't be a surprise if the military government issues her arrest upon her return. To the New York Times, Wint Lwin shared her worries that it won't be safe for her to return home, and she doesn't know where she'll go now.
She isn't the only one.
Fearless Beauty Queens
Another beauty queen from Myanmar has been very vocal about the state of her country. Miss Grand Myanmar Han Lay spoke out just last month at the Miss Grand International 2020 pageant about the people dying in her country.
"In Myanmar, journalists are detained... so I decided to speak out," said Lay to BBC. Her two-minute speech put her on the military's radar, and she shared that she's decided to stay in Thailand over fears of getting arrested if she returns home.
"On social media, [people] threatened me, saying when I go back to Myanmar... prison is waiting for me," said Lay. "My friends told me to not come back to Myanmar."
Since her pageant speech, Lay has been using her position to support protestors, talk to diplomats, appear on international media, and call for the release of political detainees, putting her own safety on the line to make sure no one can ignore what's happening in Myanmar.
Another Myanmar beauty queen, Miss Grand Myanmar 2013 Htar Htet Htet, went viral for taking up arms and joining rebel groups and ethnic communities in the fight against the country's military junta.
“I will fight back as much as I can. I am ready and prepared to give up everything. I am even ready to pay with my life,” said Htet Htet on social media.
Neither Wint Lwin nor Lay won the big prize at their respective pageants, but they did manage to do something else: Call the world's attention to the struggle of the people of Myanmar, and they didn't even need to win the crown to do it.
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