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The ‘garbage beauty queen’ who charmed Miss Universe audiences with dress made of soda tabs

Miss Thailand, Anna Sueangam-iam, shared the story of her childhood, which she spent in the slums of Bangkok

Miss Thailand
Miss Thailand, Anna Sueangam-iam, on the Miss Universe stage on January 11, wearing a dress made from recycled cans and Swarovski crystals.Josh Brasted (Getty)

As a child they called her “Miss Garbage,” but Anna Sueangam-iam has been crowned the queen of beauty. Even though she did not win the crown at the Miss Universe pageant this past weekend (it went to the US representative, R’Bonney Gabriel), her personal story was the one that caught the attention of the public and turned her into the true star of the event.

“I am a person who grew up in a dump,” explained the model at the competition. Her father was a garbage collector, her mother was a street sweeper, and the family lived in one of Bangkok’s poorest slums. Anna herself had to rummage through the trash for plastic bottles to collect and help earn a few coins to contribute to the family budget. Sueangam-iam also scrubbed public toilets, donated blood every six months, and ate leftovers discarded by the local nuns. She always dreamed of being a beauty queen, but due to her situation, her peers made fun of her, nicknaming her “the queen of garbage.”

Rather than concealing these humble origins, Miss Thailand shared them with the jury and her colleagues and made them part of the story with which she introduced herself at the pageant. In the preliminary competition, held on January 11 in New Orleans, the model took the stage in a shiny metallic dress. The design was reminiscent of those fashioned by the designer Paco Rabanne in the 1960s and paraded in the early 2000s by the likes of Kate Moss and Paris Hilton.

Miss Universo
Anne Jakkaphong Jakrajutatip, new owner of the Miss Universe pageant, presents the ImpactWayv award to Miss Thailand, Anna Sueangam-iam.Gerald Herbert (AP)

But the dress contained another message: it was made of soda can tabs combined with Swarovski crystals. “This gown was inspired by the familiar surroundings of my childhood,” wrote Sueangam-iam on her Instagram account, which has just reached half a million followers. “Growing up with garbage collector parents, my life as a child was among piles of garbage and recyclables. This unique gown was purposefully tailor-made with discarded and recycled materials, namely the ‘Can Tab’ to present to the UNIVERSE that what’s considered worthless by many actually possesses its own value and beauty.”

The soda tab dress quickly turned into a symbol and a powerful media hook that has earned its wearer the ImpactWayv award for its social repercussion.

The Miss Universe beauty pageant has been losing relevance in recent years, accused of objectifying women and representing outdated values. To address this change in its social perception, after a 70-year history, an attempt was made last year to give the event a change of focus. In October 2022 it was acquired by the Thai transgender tycoon and activist Anne Jakapong Jakrajutatip, who bought it for $20 million with the aim of making the organization more “inclusive.” Former US President Donald Trump owned the event from 1996 to 2015.

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