Sexy Miss Sweden Not Just a Pretty Face

"Help Wanted: an attractive blonde, 18-28, must care about world peace…"

Okay, so that's not exactly the ad that's been running in Sweden's national employment register, but it's pretty close. The actual ad is in Swedish, and it is gender-neutral, as all want ads are required to be in Sweden.

"Anyone can apply -- even men," said the owner of the Miss Sweden franchise, Panos Papadopoulos. But Papadopoulos conceded that men do not get very far, because the main purpose of the contest is to choose Sweden's representative to the Miss Universe pageant.

Miss Sweden (Fröken Sverige, in Swedish) is the only beauty pageant in the world that advertises in the want ads. And contestants are chosen through a decidedly different selection process than any other beauty pageant in the world.

"It's not a beauty pageant at all, not in the traditional way," said Papadopoulos, who bought the rights to Miss Sweden a few years ago.

Papadopoulos also owns one of the country's most successful swimsuit companies -- ironic, given that he banned the swimsuit competition soon after he bought Miss Sweden.

The Miss Sweden contest more closely resembles a reality TV show than a beauty pageant. Instead, the contestants undergo a series of leadership contests and seminars.

The reason for this change? In Sweden, as in much of the world, the idea of beauty pageants had come under fire. Protesters claimed it was sexist, old-fashioned, and out of sync with a country that prides itself on a more modern, liberal approach.

Beauty pageants elsewhere might do well to follow Sweden's example.

Miss Spain recently filed suit against her pageant after she was disqualified for having a child. The male-equivalent pageant has no rules against being a parent, but Miss Spain (like Miss America) doesn't allow it for the women.

Miss Nevada was recently stripped of her crown after a sex scandal.

Miss USA also came under fire for less-than-ladylike behavior. But Donald Trump, the owner of the rights to Miss USA, famously allowed her to keep her crown.

Miss Sweden has no crown -- and no tiara or sash, except the one given to her when she competes in Miss Universe.

Miss Sweden 2006 is 24-year-old Josephine Alhanko, the first to be chosen by Sweden's new method. Blonde, blue-eyed and beautiful, she is very much the beauty queen. But she also has two master's degrees and is currently pursuing her PhD.

Alhanko said ever since she was a little girl she fantasized about being a beauty queen. Her first pageant? Miss Universe last year, where she came in among the top 20.

"There were some very nice girls, and some of them very beautiful and very intelligent," Alhanko said. "But of course, there was the other side.

"I was a bit shocked that so many of them had plastic surgery at such a young age," she said. "I think that is very sad. It send out the wrong message. But maybe opinions about that are very different in other countries than they are in Sweden."

Next month, her reign ends and she'll hand over to the next Miss Sweden. She said her friends in graduate school tease her about being Miss Sweden. But she suspects they are proud of her, too.