In one of the most jaw-dropping ungulate scandals to date—in news so weird it even made “News of the Weird”—43 camels were barred from a beauty pageant in Saudi Arabia last December because of Botox use and other outlawed beauty “enhancement” techniques.
Botox was banned from the contest in 2018 when a dozen breeders deceptively used it to alter camels’ heads and lips. The 2018 scandal also involved facial fillers, artificially stretched noses and lips, and the use of muscle-defining hormones. As reported by NPR, a veterinarian was even caught performing elective surgery on contestants’ ears to make them appear more dainty.
Pageant officials conduct both physical and clinical examinations of the contestants, using a variety of technologies, such as x-ray and sonar, as they attempt to minimize fraud through keeping a tight rein.
Examiners for the most recent pageant uncovered 147 cases of “tampering,” with the aforementioned 43 cases serious enough to merit disqualification. According to a CNN travel article, a lesser infraction such as “braiding, cutting the tail, or dyeing the camel incurs a fine of 30,000 riyals ($8,000).”
Talk about suffering for your art. To get gorgeous, these beauties were obviously willing to bust a hump.
The stakes are high as contestants vie for their share of $66 million in prizes. Yes, I said 66 MILLION dollars. This may explain why some breeders are willing to cheat. There’s just no way around it. This pack of camels has to be smokin’ hot.
During the 40-day pageant, the participants are judged, as reported by People magazine, on the “shape of their head, neck, and hump, as well as their dress and posture.” Dress?
It’s not hard to imagine how many times camels have been subjected to having their humps ogled and have thought, “Hey, Buddy, my eyes are down here.” Some have even reportedly grumbled that they’re paraded around and treated like livestock. Responding to these allegations, breeders have countered that the camels are divas and expect every night to be sung to bed.
Generally, the contestants caravan to the pageant site. They get ridden all day and are still expected (most unfairly) to be fresh, charming, and glamorous at night. Popular hotel accommodations include the Sands, the Dunes, and the Oasis, which boasts the area’s favorite watering hole. If contestants arrive before check-in time, they’re usually temporarily parked in a camel lot.
Behind-the-scenes interviews indicate that one of the main issues for competitors is water weight, so, as you might expect, the pageant grounds are overflowing with diuretics.
For the talent portion of the pageant, some of the camels are dancers, though they themselves prefer the term “hoofers.” Other sponsors coach their charges to sing and hope that big prize money will be an answer to their brayers. But by and large, the most common talent one sees at the pageant is spitting, with points awarded for distance, volume, aim, and overall vindictiveness.
Many audience members regard the evening gown competition as their favorite segment. One admirer volunteered that in this portion, the camels appear at their most sheik.
Swimsuit competition, once a staple of the pageant, has been discontinued in recent years amidst obsessive social media focus on the dromedaries’ toes.
The pageant has raised a lot of questions. Is it all worth it? Does it place too much emphasis on unnatural, unrealistic standards of beauty? And, finally, are these camels really all that attractive?
As for that last question, let’s just put it this way: they get plenty and plenty of dates.
Bill Spencer is author of Uranus Is Always Funny: Short Essays to Make You Laugh.