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No dieting needed for Thailand's Jumbo Queen contest

NAKHON PATHOM, Thailand (AFP) - One month before Bangkok hosts the Miss Universe

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" name="c3" /> Miss Universe competition, Thailand crowned a 110-kilo (240-pound) business student winner of a light-hearted, heavyweight pageant staged to promote elephant conservation.
Tarnrarin Chansawang, 18, was crowned the eighth Miss Jumbo Queen after a contest in which 24 large-size women sang and danced to pop tunes and traditional Thai music.

The annual event is an unlikely precursor to the international pageant May 30 in Bangkok, but the Jumbo Queen has become a strangely popular event in a country where most women strive to be skinny.

More than 700 people attended the contest at the Samphran Elephant Ground and Zoo, about an hour's drive west of Bangkok.

In a nod to the upcoming Miss Universe pageant, a special Miss Jumbo Universe prize was awarded to the heaviest contestant -- Thanchanok Mekkeaw, a 25-year-old political science who was weighed on-stage at 182 kilos (401 pounds).

Women aged 18-35 are eligible to enter, as long as they weigh at least 80 kilos.

Judges score the women not only on their performances and an interview, but on how well they exhibit the qualities of an elephant, something of a compliment in a country where the animals still have a respected role.

Suphaphini Buanwongse, a 21-year-old who won the Miss Mahout title for best performance for a dance in which she mixed and served drinks for the judges, said she wanted to keep her 140 kilos.

"I still want to be fat. I don't want to lose my weight," she said.

Tarnrarin had only praise for the competition, after she tearily accepted the crown.

"I feel I am also beautiful, whatever the figure, it's OK," she said after the pageant. "I'm happy with my body."

"Slim or big, just have fun with your friends," she said, while admitting that she might try to lose weight once her reign is over.

In addition to the 50,000-baht (1,250-dollar) cash prize, Tarnrarin becomes an elephant conservation ambassador, taking part in awareness campaigns to highlight the plight of Thailand's herds.

Thailand's total elephant herd population is nearly 5,000, with up to 2,000 of them in the wild. Experts have warned that the wild population could be wiped out within 15 years if no action is taken.
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