- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Beauty queens and pageant producers were scratching their heads Wednesday at the uproar over reports that Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump called former Miss Universe Alicia Machado “Miss Piggy” when she gained too much weight.

Nobody condoned hurling insults — or comparing Miss Universe to a Muppet character — but they defended Mr. Trump’s role in protecting the Miss Universe brand when he owned the pageant. Some even called the media furor hypocritical because TV news anchors would lose their jobs if they gained too much weight.

Camilla Hansson, who competed as Miss Sweden in the 2014 Miss Universe pageant, said looking healthy was “part of the contract.”

She acknowledged that nobody wants to be labeled “Miss Piggy” or “Miss Housekeeping.” Ms. Machado accused Mr. Trump of calling her those names when she gained weight — reportedly more than 35 pounds — after being crowned Miss Universe in 1996.

“Every woman needs to be respected regardless how she looks, if she gains weight. Nobody want to have a nickname like that,” Ms. Hansson said in an interview on CNN. “Having said that, being a Miss Universe, we know what the role entails. We know we have to be healthy, and we have all the possible help to be so.”

She said the pageant provides personal trainers and nutritionists to help the contestants stay in shape.

“Miss Universe is a brand, and they like you to follow what’s within their sort of grand ethos,” Ms. Hansson said, speaking via satellite from Sweden.

She said Ms. Machado benefited from the brand.

“I’m sorry, of course, that she had to hear negative comments,” said Ms. Hansson. “[But] a platform like Miss Universe, which I guess ultimately Donald gave her, is a massive thing, and you can do a huge amount of good with it. So, yes, in a way she is who she is because of that platform, and so am I.”

Ms. Machado’s weight problem nearly cost her the crown in 1996. Her effort to shed pounds also became a public spectacle when Mr. Trump invited reporters to watch her work out in an exclusive Manhattan gym.

The New York billionaire’s treatment of the beauty queen turned into a campaign issue when Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton raised it during a debate Monday, saying Mr. Trump is known for calling women “pigs, slobs and dogs.”

Charges of sexism and misogyny have been staples of Mrs. Clinton’s campaign as she works to drive female voters away from Mr. Trump.

“He loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them. And he called this woman ‘Miss Piggy.’ Then he called her ‘Miss Housekeeping’ because she was Latina. Donald, she has a name,” said Mrs. Clinton. “Her name is Alicia Machado.”

Mrs. Clinton told Mr. Trump that Ms. Machado has become a U.S. citizen, “and you can bet she’s going to vote this November.”

The next day, the Clinton campaign rolled out a TV ad featuring Ms. Machado, 39, who was 18 when she won the Miss Universe title.

“He was overwhelming,” she says of Mr. Trump in the ad. “I was very scared of him. He’d yell at me all the time. He’d tell me, ‘You look ugly’ or ‘You look fat.’”

Ms. Machado also made the rounds of TV news shows, shaming Mr. Trump and accusing him of contributing to her eating disorders.

Randy Sanders, who has produced Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants for more than 30 years, said the TV news coverage gave him pause.

“It’s the same thing if you’re a newscaster. If you’re on CNN, I assume they have a clause in their contract, and Jeff Zucker is not going to be happy if his lead anchor [gets fat],” said Mr. Sanders, referring to the president of CNN.

“It’s all across the world. It’s in a beauty pageant. It’s in media. It’s in media big time,” he said. “I think there is some hypocrisy on all sides of it.”

He nevertheless disagreed with calling somebody “Miss Piggy.”

“That’s a shame,” he said. “There is an expectation, absolutely, to provide a healthy-looking body image.”

Beyond challenges to the legitimacy of the controversy, questions arose about Ms. Machado’s character and why Mrs. Clinton would attach herself to someone who has had brushes with the law and sordid misadventures.

In 1998 in Venezuela, Ms. Machado was accused of driving the car in which her boyfriend sped away from the scene where his brother-in-law was shot in the head outside a church.

A month later, a Venezuelan judge accused Ms. Machado of threatening to kill him for indicting her boyfriend on charges of attempted murder.

Ms. Machado made headlines again in 2005 when she went on a Mexican reality TV show called “La Granga (The Farm)” and had sex with a cast member on camera. The episode prompted her fiance, Major League Baseball outfielder Bobby Abreu, to break off the engagement.

In 2008, Mexico’s attorney general said the father of Ms. Machado’s baby girl was drug cartel kingpin Jose Gerardo Alvarez Vazquez, or “El Indio.” Ms. Machado denied it and insisted the father was businessman Rafael Hernandez Linares.

“In an attempt to demonize Trump, Hillary reinforces the impression voters have that she can’t be trusted,” said Arizona Republican Party Chairman Robert Graham.

“Her using Alicia Machado to try to malign Trump is another example of the system being broken,” Mr. Graham said. “Machado threatens to kill a judge, she’s a suspect in a drive-by shooting, she has known relations with a drug cartel boss and she still becomes a U.S. citizen.”

The Clinton campaign refused to answer questions about its involvement with Ms. Machado.

Mr. Trump defended himself by recounting how Ms. Machado became a problem for the Miss Universe organization after she won the title and became the yearlong representative of the contest.

“She was the worst we ever had. The worst, the absolute worst. She was impossible,” Mr. Trump said on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” program. “She gained a massive amount of weight, and it was a real problem. We had a real problem. Not only that, but her attitude, and we had a real problem with her.”

He said Mrs. Clinton dredged up the story and attempted to present Ms. Machado as if she were Mother Teresa.

“It wasn’t quite that way, but that’s OK. Hillary has to do what she has to do,” he said.

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