Queens of Kings
THE LOCAL MISS NORWAY contest dates back to 1954, when Bay Ridge’s Seventh Avenue was known as “Lapskous Boulevard” for the Norse stew that was still a neighborhood favorite. Every spring, a bevy of Norwegian-American beauties return to don their best bunads—traditional Norwegian costumes—and compete for the winner’s sash and sparkling crown.
Just a few miles away, in the seaside enclave of Brighton Beach, hundreds of former Soviet beauties try to out-bikini each other at an upscale banquet hall for the title of Miss Russian New York. Hailing from countries like Belarus, Ukraine, and, of course, Russia, the lovely young ladies vie to win tickets to Miami and a chance to make their fellow expatriates proud.
While Brooklyn has never produced a Miss America to call its own, the borough is not lacking in beauty. A slew of ethnic pageants showcase the borough’s gorgeous mosaic, and at least one local lovely has brought home a nationwide pageant crown. You may not see Brooklyn’s beauties competing on primetime TV, but you could very well run into one in a local subway station, at the neighborhood diner, or even in your building’s laundry room. If you ask nicely, she might even show you her tiara.
Karen Freely, 24
Miss Norway of Greater New York 2005
It’s a bit of a tradition in my family. I had an aunt Karen, she competed in the mid ’70s and was the first runner-up; my cousin competed in the mid ’80s, and she was first runner-up. And I competed—I was just hoping that I placed. It was a big thing for me and my family. My mom is complete Norwegian, first generation; my grandmother is from Tysnes, and my grandfather is from Mandal. They moved to New York just before the Depression, and they left Norway being kind of well off. The Depression hits, and they’re down to one potato, one slip, one dress, and they just became self-made. They didn’t owe anybody. They met here in Brooklyn. My grandfather was a captain on the boats, and my grandmother was a stay-at-home mom. Honestly, I didn’t really think of it as a beauty contest. It’s not really based on beauty; it’s based on how you answer questions and how much you know about your Norwegian heritage. I think I’m okay. I don’t think I’m beautiful. I just felt really proud to be a part of a tradition in my family. I don’t tell too many people about it. I’m very modest. I actually have the crown and sash in a little box in my room.
Tatyana Kazinets, 22
Second Place, Miss Russian New York 2005
Student, saleswoman at jewelry boutique
Since I was little, I was always told that I was beautiful, but I never thought about it that way. Men, women approach me all the time. Sometimes it does get to be too much, if you are sick with fever, or you’re trying to read a book on the train and they’re not taking their eyes off you. There are some things I don’t want to hear from an 85-year-old man. I learned in a psychology class that even if you’re on trial, a jury tends to be more sympathetic to people who are beautiful. People are nicer to me, and it’s easier for me to persuade them to buy something. At school, professors, people are more willing to do more things for you. That’s nice. It’s hard in this world, so if it’s easy in any way, that helps. It may not be fair, but life isn’t fair.
Ms. Full-Figured USA 2005
Registered nurse, case manager at Mount Sinai Hospital
Those bad memories of being harassed—and not only by foes, but by friends and family—those hurt the most. I took those bad experiences, and I said, “I’m going to excel despite what you think of me.” And I won this competition. I felt vindicated that, see, no matter what you said about me, you’re wrong. I’m beautiful. This is for all the people who put me down, who made me feel bad because of who I am. And this is in your face—how you like me now? I would love to tear down that barrier that plus-sized women don’t have sexuality: We have fuller breasts, fuller hips, fuller ass, or, excuse me, derriere. What’s more womanly than that? If we can be the mothers and nurturers, why can’t we be the sexual goddesses that the size twos and fours are? Do you know that cat suit that Halle Berry wore? Honey, I could have worked that.
Deborah Kolben is a staff writer for The New York Sun. Dan Sagarin is a photographer whose work can be viewed at www.dansagarin.com.