Beauty contests, big or small, are available for foreign domestic helpers in Singapore almost every week, and some of them have cost the participants as much as S$1,000 (US$735) for a one-day show in hotels, dance studios or commercial office premises.

Some of contests feature grand prizes of up to S$2,000, equal to more than three months’ salary, to lure maids to sign up and compete for the crown, Shin Min Daily News reported last weekend, citing the Sunday edition of The Straits Times.

Each contest could attract around 10 to 40 participants, with each woman having to pay registration fees, costume fees, and fees for makeup and etiquette classes. Participants would also be responsible for selling raffle tickets so that the atmosphere of the contest day would be full of cheers from supporters and the general audience.

Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2), a non-profit organization in Singapore dedicated to improving conditions for low-paid migrant workers, told the Shin Min Daily News that maids had reported that they were not informed of hidden costs, such as extra charges for costumes, until they had already agreed to participate. One “winning” beauty queen said she had to pay for her own crown.

A 33-year-old Filipino named Jessica told a reporter that she paid the equivalent of a month’s salary to prepare for the show, at which she felt she was treated “like Cinderella.”

However, she regretted joining it as she was chased by the organizer, who argued that she had to pay another S$100 to cover her unsold tickets, even though Jessica had met the stated minimum sale of S$300 worth of tickets. She got rid of the organizer and the claimed outstanding fee only after TWC2’s intervention.

Some organizers said the fees they charged were all spent on renting venues, equipment for the stage, prizes and advertisements. Classes on hairstyling, makeup, catwalking and aerobic dancing were aimed at equipping maids with useful skills for their future career when they return home.

They were doing their best to seek sponsors so as to lower the costs as much as possible, the organizers claimed.