Miss England rarely causes a stir these days or make the headlines. Yet, in its sixty-eighth year, Sara Iftekhar has caused some controversy. Sara Iftekhar, a law student from the University of Huddersfield became the first contest reach the Miss England finals whilst wearing a hijab. However, Sara is no stranger to pageants. She currently holds the title of Miss Huddersfield and competed in the Miss England final against forty-nine competitors.
Sara’s success throughout the competition suggests that western beauty standards are finally changing to become more culturally tolerant. Unfortunately, her partaking in the competition has divided many. To maintain her modesty Sara opted out of the ‘Beach Beauty’ round along with other competitors, as well as, additionally opting out of the ‘Beautiful Hair’ round.
However, negative online comments were led by individuals who believe she shouldn’t have taken part in the pageant if she wasn’t showing off her body, or those who believe the hijab is too scared to wear in a beauty pageant. In an interview with the Daily Mail, she stated: “Going into this competition and being Pakistani, either way, I was going to get a backlash. If I’d worn a little black dress and no hijab, I’d have had people say: ‘Why aren’t you covering yourself up? This is against your religion!”
Some of the most disturbing online comments stemmed from people believing she’d been forced to wear the headscarf by her family Sara has stated she chooses to wear her hijab for personal reasons. Many Muslims believe the hijab can be worn at any time. Sabah Choudhry, Muslim student interviewed by the Telegraph questioned contrary beliefs: “Why can’t Muslim women decide the parameters of their Islamic identity and sexual morality, without facing harsh scrutiny from within and outside the ‘imagined’ Muslim community?” This is a popular opinion many individuals hold, as evidence to Sara winning Miss England’s ‘Miss Popularity’ round from online votes. This automatically put her through to the Miss England quarterfinals.
Sara told the Daily Mail: ‘Beauty contests today are not just about being a pretty face and you won’t get far in these competitions if you’re a mean or nasty person — they’ll see straight through you,’ she says. ‘It’s my choice to wear it and I didn’t do it to make any kind of point. I’m just a regular girl from an ordinary family who wanted to take part in a beauty contest as a bit of fun.’
Over the years, the pageant has reinvented itself with additional rounds, “Miss Beautiful Mind” (quizzing the contests on important matters) to “Miss Eco” (around dedicated to designing and modelling rubbish). For the eco round, Sara wore a dress made out of recycled plastic.
Sara is not the first to model a headscarf in mainstream English media. In London Fashion Week 2016/2017, D & G and other designer brands introduced a range of headscarves in various different colours and patterns to the runway. However, her appearance is still powerful, and will inspire Muslim girls all over the country.
Miss England was crowned on the 4th of September. Miss Newcastle, Alisha Cowie.