Mould-breaking Miss Germany defies wave of online hatred

Mould-breaking Miss Germany defies wave of online hatred


“I knew I would get a bit of blowback, but not like this,” Schoenauer, 39, told AFP

Berlin (AFP) – As a mother who is almost 40 and who was born in Iran, the new Miss Germany Apameh Schoenauer stood out at the beauty pageant.

But those traits also exposed her to a wave of online abuse. “I knew I would get a bit of blowback, but not like this,” Schoenauer, 39, told AFP.

Many of the hateful messages aimed at her over her looks and ethnicity after her coronation in February were “superficial”, she said. But it was also her unconventional profile that drove her to sign up for the contest.

“I took part in Miss Germany because I wanted to change something,” said Schoenauer, an architect and mother of a toddler, who moved to Germany aged six.

It was after the birth of her daughter that Schoenauer decided she wanted to do something to be more of a “role model” for young girls. Schoenauer’s own roots were a source of inspiration.

The images of “strong Iranian women, taking to the streets every day to fight for their freedom” after the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022 moved her to do something, Schoenauer said.

A wave of protest erupted in Iran after the death in custody of the 22-year-old, who was arrested by the morality police for an alleged breach of the country’s strict dress code for women.

Besides being an architect, Schoenauer is the founder of the Shirzan network — “lion woman” in Farsi — which campaigns for women’s rights. Most Iranians, she said, were “proud” to see her crowned Miss Germany.

“They gain hope from the fact that, as an Iranian woman, you can make a difference in a different country where you grew up and have lived for more than 30 years.”

‘Assert yourself’

Since being overhauled in 2019, the Miss Germany pageant is less about waist measurements and looks, and more about the character and achievements of the contestants.

The most recent edition of the competition, which is not linked to the Miss Universe contest, also lifted the upper age limit, opening up to older women.

The angry response online to Schoenauer’s coronation showed that her campaign “could not be more important than it is right now”. Attacking her for the way she looks or her background was “very sad”, Schoenauer said.

“If they have the courage, they should sit down at a table and talk to me constructively,” she said. “But when someone hides behind their screen, behind an anonymous name… I don’t waste my energy on this.”

After getting a degree, Schoenauer said she had a shock when she stepped into the male-dominated world of architecture. “I learned what it means to assert yourself, to battle through as a woman in a man’s job and then also as an Iranian woman, as a migrant.”

Schoenauer said her mission as Miss Germany was to “inspire young women to become the best version of themselves” whatever their story. “You can never forget about your origins, but you have to look now to your future to do the best you can,” she said. 

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