It started off well enough.

Beauty queen Tiffany Munro was talking to Oshawa high school students about body image, saying she put on weight to enter the Miss Universe Canada competition.

Pageant organizers, the 26-year-old said, didn’t want them looking anorexic, “like some little African child with the ribs going on.”

Rumblings and muted jeers erupted from the audience at G.L. Roberts Collegiate and Vocational Institute, and a fellow contestant who had just described her experience in a Rwandan refugee camp gasped in shock.

The event Thursday morning was to have been a chance for the pageant’s 62 contestants to practise their public speaking skills.

For Munro, it was a hard lesson learned.

“Skeletons,” the Edmonton native said later. “I meant to say they don’t want us to look like skeletons. But I’m still half-asleep after having to get up at 5 a.m.”

Munro, a filmmaker who has her own production company, said she was apologizing to everyone for the gaffe that “just slipped out.”

African-born Solange Tuyishime, 26, spent much of her time onstage being consoled by another contestant.

“I was hurt” by the reference to “stereotypical images they show on TV,” she said in an interview. “It’s very sad that in 2010 when we make references to the poor, we think of African children, because poverty is everywhere.”

But the “beauty” of the pageant, she added graciously, is that it gives them an opportunity “to learn from each other.”