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An Iranian-born mum is the new Miss Germany, reflecting the pageant's inclusive turn

An Iranian-born mum is the new Miss Germany, reflecting the pageant's inclusive turn

When Apameh Schönauer was named Miss Germany 2024 on Saturday, the Berliner beamed onstage in her sash, a giant smile on her face.

A mother and a working architect, Schönauer says she’s passionate about women’s rights and helping migrants assimilate to life in Germany.

She too is a migrant – born in Iran, she immigrated to Germany with her family when she was six. Schönauer said the first years of living in a foreign country were difficult – she struggled to fit in at school and lost sight of who she was as a person.

Onstage, she said she wants to advocate for young women like herself, who are dealing with the difficulties of being migrants in Germany.

Her organisation Shirzan (meaning 'lioness') helps oppressed women, encouraging them to “share their stories and their experiences, to inspire and support each other so they can realise their full potential.”

Schönauer’s victory was a significant stride in the more inclusive direction the Miss Germany pageant has taken since 2019, shifting away from physical beauty and bikini contests towards a more complex definition of beauty that focuses on contestants’ personalities and actions.

This year's finalists were unlike any beauty queens the country has seen before – one woman has been living with a donor heart for two and a half years. Another has a rare autoimmune disease and uses a wheelchair.

This year, the previous age limit for the contest was also lifted – the oldest finalist was 42 years old. Organisers said some 15,000 women applied to join a selection process that lasted several months.

Social media erupts with accusations of ‘wokism’

Not long after her victory, Schönauer was subject to a flurry of negative comments on social media and accusations of “wokism” abounded.

Her detractors took issue with the fact that she doesn’t fit stereotypical beauty standards; some also suggested she isn’t “German enough.”

Some of the posts on social media (which we won’t link to because of how hateful they are) show Schönauer side by side with blonde women or other beauty queens, like Miss Universe Germany 2023 Helena Bleicher.

Others compared her to caricatures like the witch in Snow White.

The backlash is similar to that received by other beauty pageants that have tried to rebrand in recent years – in December, the winner of Miss France was inundated with hateful posts about her short haircut and thin frame.

Portugal’s Miss Universe winner – the country’s first trans winner – faced a similar wave of online criticism and transphobia after her victory last October.

Despite its critics, the Miss Germany competition is committed to its new inclusivity mission, swapping the winner’s crown for a “Female Leader Award” that comes with a €25,000 cheque.

“We are looking for women who take responsibility and act as role models, thereby shaping a cosmopolitan and modern society,” according to Miss Germany's website.