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Turkey's first beauty contest

For Turkey's first beauty contest in 1929, Cumhuriyet newspaper launched a major publicity campaign. News items and announcements urged Turkish girls to participate in the contest, stressing the idea that it would be patriotic to do so. However, reactions to the event in the press were mixed. The humorous magazine Karagöz wrote on 9 February 1929: 'Our associate Cumhuriyet wants Turkish women to enter the World Beauty Contest. That's right, every country has its beauties, and are not we equally well endowed? Indeed more! There are those who can conquer a thousand hearts with a single smile, those who can burn a thousand spirits with a single glance. What enticing, what alluring, what glamorous ones we have. The only trouble is that they suit our own fancy. They are not made to measure. As we all know, our bodies are not European but Turkish standard. Since we grow up at random, without sport or exercise, we all have a little bit of a paunch. We do not care much about beauty by measurement. For us beauty is eyes and brows, and the rest is empty talk! The contest committee is going to measure the entrants first and accept those who are the right dimensions! Come sir, come. We have no fabric to fit their measure here!'As the debate continued, the beauty contest was held on 2 September 1929 with the backing of the government The winner was Feriha Tevfik Hanim, granddaughter of Minister of Fisheries Mehmed Tevfik Bey. In second place was Seniye Hanim, and in third place Araksi Hanim. The jury was composed of eminent names. Due to organisational hitches Feriha Tevfik Hanim was unable to enter the beauty contests held in Europe and America that year, so early in 1930 she entered the Turkish contest again, and came second. The beauty who came first entered a beauty contest in France, and Feriha Tevfik Hanim was sent to another in America. Although she was not one of the finalists, she attracted a lot of attention and received offers from Hollywood. As she was only 14, however, she turned down these offers on the grounds that she would be homesick.

On 16 January 1930, Resimli Uyanis magazine reported on the event: 'This week, on the initiative of Cumhuriyet newspaper, the second Turkish beauty contest took place. The new beauty queen is Mübeccel Namik Hanim, who has green eyes, is tall, and well proportione The members of the jury, who included celebrated novelists and writers, expressed some interesting views. Hüseyin Rahmi said, "Each one of them is beautiful, and it is difficult to select amid such abundance." Halit Ziya declared, "I was overcome." Ahmet Ihsan said, "I thought I was dreaming." Abdülhak Hamit commented, "I thought I had entered paradise." Countess Soranzo said, "I thought I had been in heaven." Hüseyin Cahit said, "I am awed." Sükufe Nihal remarked, "Very difficult. So difficult I cannot find a reply." Ismail Müstak declared, "I pine for all of them." And Rezan Emin said, "Number 32 was like a rose."' Number 32 was Mübeccel Namik Hanim, but unfortunately she did not reach the finals in the French city of Cannes.

On 28 July 1930, the newspaper reported on preparations for the third contest, 'Since an insufficient number of applications have been received, the application period has been extended until the end of October. Entrants may have their photographs taken at our expense at Foto Süreyya and Foto Femina in Beyoglu.' Finally the targetted number of entrants was achieved, and the contest was held in 1931. Naside Saffet Hanim became the beauty queen that year, followed in second place by Saniha Hanim, and in third place by Selma Hanim. However, when none of the Turkish beauty queens managed to reach the finals in international beauty contests, public enthusiasm waned. On 15 June 1932 Cumhuriyet newspaper went to press with the headline, 'The world awaits the Turkish beauty', and from then until 2 July the newspaper called on unmarried girls of high moral character between the age of 16 and 25 to enter the contest. The judging would take place in private, and the entrants would wear ball gowns. It was also announced that the winner would receive a prize of 500 Turkish liras, and that the names of entrants who did not reach the finals would not be disclosed. Yet despite these measures, only seven girls applied. They were joined at the last moment by Keriman Halis Hanim, the 17 year-old daughter of Tüccar Halis Bey, uand it was she who won the contest, and represented Turkey at the Miss Universe beauty contest held in the Belgian city of Spa. Later she described that event: 'First we appeared before a jury of women, and then the main contest began in a theatre. The entrants from 28 countries came out one by one... Finally there were just two of us left, the German beauty and myself. On the last day they asked to see each of us again. I wore a red gown with a white ribbon at the neck, representing the colours of the Turkish flag. The moment we had been waiting for arrived as the chairman of the jury stood up and carefully opened the envelope with a red seal which she held. There was complete silence in the theatre. I was about to faint from the suspense. The envelope was opened, and the whole theatre rang with shouts of, "Hurrah for
Miss Turkey!"' Back in Turkey everyone was delighted at the news, and Atatürk himself sent her a telegram of congratulation, in which he referred to her as 'ece', the Turkish for queen. So when it became compulsory for all Turkish citizens to take surnames in the year 1934, Keriman Halis took the surname Ece.

* Cengiz Kahraman is a photographer.