The apsaras, or celestial female spirits, of Hindu-Buddhist mythology are figures of grace and elegance. They are renowned for their beauty. . . but did any of those apsaras ever actually rule the world with their beauty?

Yes, there actually once was an apsara who ruled not only the world with her beauty, but the entire universe as well!!

She came to power in 1965 in Miami, Florida. Her name was Apsara Hongsakul, Miss Thailand, and in 1965 she became Miss Universe!

Beauty pageants have played an important but controversial role in modern history. While some dismiss them for their objectification of women, others have noted the ways in which beauty pageants are used to promote ideas of an ideal woman for a given nation. Still others have pointed to the many business interests that are at work behind the scenes at beauty pagaents.

I came across a magazine called Thailand Illustrated which was an official Thai publication that promoted Thailand’s image to a foreign readership. One issue in 1965 was dedicated almost entirely to Apsara Hongsakul. This is what it had to say:

“On July 25, 1965 radio listeners and television viewers were exhilarated when they heard the news that Apsara Hongsakul, Miss Thailand, was named Miss Universe 1965. At last, Apsara has done it again and this time she brought it off at the expense of a formidable host of fellow-contestants hand-picked beauties from the four corners of the earth.

“It was amidst the wildly cheering crowds that the radiant, petite Miss Thailand was crowned. For her win, Apsara received a $10,000 cash prize plus $10,000 for personal appearances throughout the world.

“To everybody who asked about her feeling, Apsara humbly said that she could not believe it and she thought it was just a dream.

“Apart from her 35-22-35½ measurements, Apsara has a most radiant smile, an exquisite face, poise, naturalness but, above all, it was reported, her serenity and modest propriety typical of a Thai girl of good family won the hearts of all.

“Apsara’s entry in the Miss Universe Contest was jointly sponsored by the Vajiravudh Alumni Association and the T.O.T. and a great deal of credit for the success was due to M.L. Kamala Sukhum, her able and sophisticated chaperone.”

In looking online for information about the history of the Miss Universe contest, I found that Apsara Hongsakul was the second Asian woman to win the title of Miss Universe. The first was Akiko Kojima from Japan, who won in 1959. The third was Gloria Diaz from the Philippines, who won in 1969.

I guess it should not surprise us to find that these were all women from countries on one side of the Cold War divide.

They may be simply called “beauty” pagaents, but they are certainly about much much more than beauty. Gender ideology, money, national prestige, Cold War politics. . . the list goes on and on.

Nonetheless, you still have to give credit to Apsara Hongsakul for a job well done! She did what no apsara had ever done before.