December is synonymous with Christmas, the new year, and… Miss France.
The annual beauty pageant has retained its appeal: 7.3 million people tuned in last year – more than watched the 2022 Tour de France here.
Its organisers have come in for criticism in recent years, however, and were taken to court earlier this year by the Osez le féminisme ! group, which demanded an end to discriminatory criteria and for participants to be given employment contracts.
A decision is expected in the coming months.
In the meantime, some have already turned their attention to contests which claim to represent a more diverse spectrum of the population.
Celebrate curvy women
Miss Ronde France was created in 2008 to celebrate curvy women. The only rules are you must be aged between 16 and 60, and weigh 6kg more than your height, less the metre.
So if you are 160cm tall, you must weigh at least 66kg. Miss France contestants must be at least 170cm tall.
Candidates receive training on haircare and make-up, and how to manage social media and deal with client brands.
Like the Miss France contestants, they must also answer questions ahead of the main event, although instead of just general knowledge questions, their foreign language skills are also tested.
Victoria Paillot, the show’s national artistic director and president for the PACA region, said: “There are English lessons during the year.
No English, no chance
In international competitions, if you don’t understand English you have no chance.”
“With Miss France, even if the girls are intelligent, they are confined to the role of trophy wife. We don’t want to train them for that.”
She said winners are often asked to visit hospitals, or to talk to schoolchildren about fatphobia. “This social message of helping the population, even just moral support, is something Miss France no longer does, but we do.”
While the competition has been well received since its creation in 2017, Ms Paillot said clothing brands had been slow to follow, and plus-size women face the choice of “either very expensive or bad quality” clothes.
Seven hundred people attended the ceremony and 1,200 more voted online as Mégane Pennuen of Alsace was crowned Miss Ronde France in June.
She said her fellow contestants had become “a second family”. “We really supported each other. It helped us to gain self-confidence, rather than being desperate to know who was going to win.”
She does still enjoy watching Miss France, and said the recent rule changes are a step in the right direction. “I just find it a shame that it doesn’t represent the average woman.”
Ms Pennuen, 24, signed up to the competition as she was interested in modelling.
Each year the winner competes in Top Curvy Universe in Spain, which she hopes will open doors. That competition is better known and the winner gets a contract with an Italian modelling agency.
Also closely modelled on Miss France is Ambassadrice France, which claims to celebrate women “of all ages, all body types, and all sizes”. The only criterion is to be aged between 18 and 30.
Miss Small Beauty, meanwhile, is open only to women shorter than 170cm.
Then there are those that shine a light on a completely different aspect of French culture.
Miss France Agricole, created in 2014, is a contest exclusively for farmers and agricultural workers, which takes place on Facebook.
Contestants usually post photos in their farming get-up, posing with their animals, alongside a description, and a panel of judges selects a winner among those with the most likes.
The current holder of the title, Marianna Briançon, endeavours to promote women who work in agriculture, and also ran as a suppléante (substitute) for the left-wing Nupes alliance at this year’s legislative elections.
The event does not just celebrate female beauty, either: a parallel election is held to crown Mister France Agricole.
Not all of the alternative pageants have achieved lasting success.
In 2012, the election of a Miss Black France was at the centre of a controversy and accused of racial exclusion.
The competition was not repeated.