Friday, August 10, 2001

15 Years of International Ms Leather

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #162, August 10, 2001)

The International Ms Leather (IMsL) Contest recently celebrated its crystal anniversary (that’s fifteen years) in Dallas, TX. According to contest promoter Amy Marie Meek of Omaha, Nebraska, “For fifteen years the International Ms. Leather contest has chosen women to represent the International leather/SM/fetish community to the public, and has provided a venue that allows leatherwomen to present their joyful vision of a positive leather image.”

International Ms Leather, Inc. was founded in San Francisco in 1986. Although there had been local women’s leather titles in a number of cities, at that time there was no national or international women’s leather title. The contest was designed to choose a woman to be a spokesperson for leatherwomen and to raise money for community organizations. In 1987, at a contest held in San Francisco, Judy Tallwing McCarthey became the first International Ms Leather. The contest continued to be held in San Francisco until 1994, when Anne C.S. Bergstedt won the title.

On September 13, 1994, Bergstedt resigned as International Ms Leather, and the title passed to Cindy Bookout. (Bergstedt, now known as Spencer Bergstedt, refers to himself as “Mr. IMsL 1994,” and although it is often assumed that the resignation was driven by transgender issues, it wasn’t.)

Also in September of 1994, Meek (who holds the title of International Ms Leather 1993) formed a production company named Bare Images Productions, Inc. and took over production of the contest. The contest started to travel and in recent years has been held in Chicago, San Diego, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Toronto. (Next year’s contest is slated for San Jose, CA—details at The focus of the contest weekend was also broadened to reach out to the men’s, bi, trans and het leather/SM communities. In 1999 the International Ms Bootblack (ImsBB) contest was added to the weekend.

This year’s IMsL weekend (July 19-22) started on Thursday with a contestant orientation and a Contestants’ Night Out. According to Meek, this year’s contestants were a good and dedicated group; one contestant lost her sponsor but still showed up in Dallas ready to compete, even though she had to ride a Greyhound bus from Kentucky to get there.

Judges for the weekend included the Twin Cities’ own PJ Knight as well as Kay Hallanger, “Fluffy” Swenson, Lynda Blakeslee, Mistress Mir, pat baillie and Dean Walradt. On Friday, while the judges interviewed the contestants, other weekend participants could shop at the jam-packed Vendor Fair. The evening’s traditional Basket Auction, in which each contestant creatively packages an assortment of kink-related merchandise, raised approximately $5000 for the IMsL and IMsBB Travel Funds.

On Saturday the Vendor Fair continued and a variety of workshops were presented; topics included bootblacking, erotic shaving, dirty dancing, and structuring Dominant/submissive relationships. Saturday evening’s contest and show, emceed by Connie Cox and Glenda Rider, presented the Speech, Fantasy Performance, Attitude and Image segments of the judging. Knight said later, “It was very difficult to judge them. I thought all nine contestants were just awesome women, and every one of them is very active in her local community.” Meek was also pleased with how the contestants presented themselves: “The fantasies were great, the speeches were great—we had a really fun time!”

Drum roll, please: The new International Ms Leather 2001 is Joni, who last year won the Ms. Olympus Leather 2000 title and who hails from Springfield, VA. First runner-up honors went to Linda L. Cox, Rocky Mountain Leatherwoman from Denver, and the second runner-up was Miss Barbrafisch from Toronto.

Charlie Flake from Denver CO won the International Ms Bootblack contest, with first runner up honors going to Sue from Las Vegas. That means that both international bootblack titleholders this year (Paxsen is the current International Mr. Bootblack) are from Denver, and both work at the Triangle Bar. So if you really want a good shine on your boots, you know where to go.

The weekend ended with a Victory Brunch on Sunday and the 7th Annual IMsL Pool Party on Sunday evening. But if there was anyone in attendance who still wanted more, they’ll have their chance this Labor Day weekend (August 31 to September 3) when, again in Dallas, the first-ever Ms. World Leather 2001 contest ( takes place. Billed as “A Different Kind of Contest for a Different Kind of Woman,” this will be the first leather contest (for any gender) where all judging events will be open to the public.

Does the women’s leather community need another contest? Obviously somebody thinks so or they wouldn’t be starting another one. But can the women’s leather community really support two contests and two titles? The men’s leather community has had two major international titles (IML and Drummer) for years. But the men’s leather community is larger, and over the years each title has carved out its own niche (a gross generalization here: IML is more political and Drummer is more erotic.). Both the men’s titles started at the same time, and over the years there has been very little sniping between the contests or the titleholders (actually, none that I’ve ever seen). Here’s hoping that both women’s leather titles flourish and complement each other; here’s hoping we don’t have a case of competing competitions.

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