Women admire them, men fall head over heels for them… such is the effect a beauty queen. Being a holder of a Miss Malaysia or Miss World title isn’t as glamorous or privileged as it appears. To earn that title takes hard work – and not just in the looks department – but also entails a journey of self-enrichment. More than ball gowns and made up faces, these women brim with passionate causes and intellect, inner beauty traits that make them stand out. 6 Malaysian beauty queens across the generations get frank about their individual journeys to the runway, recalling hardships, challenges and joys behind their big wins.

1. Jane Teoh

Miss Universe Malaysia 2018 & Miss Online Personality 2018

Jane was your typical college student, but she always wanted to do something extraordinary. “I took the leap of faith to join Miss Universe Malaysia, despite being crazily busy juggling between studies, college activities and modelling, and when I was at it, I gave in my best,” she said on that fateful decision. In between classes and exams, Jane was training for the stage and camera, which she found pretty hard, being a naturally shy person. “When you want something so bad, you’d convince yourself to do everything and push yourself,” she said, her confidence of today belying any trace of insecurity. 

“I would dispel misconceptions by living as an example the best I could. I would always want to do things that reflect myself as being smart, savvy and stylish,” said the beauty queen who hopes influence women by daring to break convention and staying authentic.  

See also: Melinda Looi: Fashioning Family Into The Fabric Of Work-Life Balance

2. Kiran Jassal

Miss Universe Malaysia 2016

Kiran’s journey served as a test to her confidence. “I had to learn to tune out voices in my head and focus only on the positive aspect of things,” she revealed.

Overcoming this hurdle marked the first of many situations that would launch her out of her comfort zone. Little did she know that it was the start of her self-discovery.

“In my opinion, beauty pageants are an inspiration to women and aspiring girl–just like the little girl I once was, to be confident and proud of your own body,” Kiran reflected. “It teaches us to celebrate imperfections and appreciate diversity and intellect.” 

In preparation of the pageant, the naturally slim Kiran had to gain weight. She also learned to love herself, and the experience paid off: “I became more receptive towards new experiences. Negative comments which serve no purpose no long bothered me.”

See also: Watch: How 5 Glamorous Women Prep To Party The Night Away At #YSLBeautyHotel

3. Vanessa Tevi Kumares

Miss Universe Malaysia 2015

Like her counterparts, Vanessa’s venture the pageant world was steered by adventure. “I took it on as a challenge after graduation because to me it was the time to try everything you haven’t,” declared the vivacious queen.

If she she had to choose, the one lesson that stuck most was studying nutrition. “I loved learning about the nutrients we put in our body and how it affects our health,” she explained. “Other than that, I loved the friends I made, exposure I had and most of all, the experience of Miss Universe.”

Indeed, a beauty queen’s job isn’t just grooming, as Vanessa shared of her training. “Discipline and self-belief need to be developed. We work hard not just on looking good, but embark on a search for who we are in the midst of the pressure and expectations put on us!” 

Being a title holder has given her the opportunity to pursue altruistic passions. “I am a thalassemia ambassador for Negeri Sembilan and also the PUMA women ambassador for Malaysia, which organises #DOYOU campaigns encouraging women to be brave and confident.”

See also: Society Secrets: Jasiminne Yip's personal beauty tips and tricks to always looking good

4. Lina Teoh

Miss Malaysia World 1998 & second runner-up at Miss World 1998

Lina is famously known for making finalist to the Miss World 1998 arena and placing second runner-up. The surreal imbues her with gratitude and pride till this day. It also paved her way to greater things, in her words: “To be a voice for those without one. It has given me many great experiences and access to opportunities I think I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Being surrounded by world-class beauties was undoubtedly intimidating and begged the burning question: how do judges choose from one contestant to another? “They have to look past the superficial and see what makes each special girl stand out,” she revealed. “That is based on her personality, intelligence and character.” 

Pressure aside, Lina recalled that experience of a lifetime with great fondness. “Meeting so many people from all around the world and spending one month with them,” she recounted, but the best one of all had to be, “standing on a stage in front of over a billion people from around the world representing Malaysia.”

See also: The Mantra That Helped A Senior Yogi Embrace Her Golden Years With Confidence

5. Datuk Yasmin Yusuff

Miss Malaysia 1978 & 3rd prize for Best National Costume, Miss Universe 1978

Datuk Yasmin is one of the few Malaysian beauty queens whose self-made success embodies beauty with brains. So sought after is the voice talent and emcee extraordinaire that she is considered a national treasure. The lasting traits from that experience sets her apart in the industry. “To always carry myself with grace,” she summarised, of what she learned. “To not let negative comments affect me, and to always be proud to represent my country anywhere.”

That sense of belonging has established her identity, with surprises along the way. “One of the priceless discoveries was about myself, that I could present myself on stage as the best I could be, even though I was very nervous.”

Datuk Yasmin's confidence has made her a sought after personality and host for prolific events. “Once everyone knows who you are, you can then use that public recognition to champion causes, to be a leader, to educate and make changes.” She cites, adding alum queens like Erra Fazira, Thanuja Ananthan, Yeoh Choo Kheng and Deborah Henry, as women who inspire her.

See also: Deborah Henry: Healthy Living Is A Lifestyle For Me

6. Maggie Loo

Miss Malaysia 1973

Maggie’s crowning nearly 50 years ago defies her golden age. With a glowing complexion, graceful stature and confident smile like that, it’s no wonder she was born to open and play mentor with her eponymous modelling academy. “Being a beauty queen was a great learning experience,” told the authority. “It has helped me to learn about human behaviour and relationships, and observe how people pay attention and listen to those with title or status."

 As a veteran, Maggie has observed various attitudes and changes in the pageant world skewed to diversity. “During my time, there were only a couple of major beauty pageants to compete in,” she recalled. “Now, there are various beauty pageants for the petite, plus-size and the matured or married women.”

So what makes a beauty queen? Being attractive and intelligent are pluses, but it’s about wholesomeness, Maggie stressed. “It's to be good with social and communication skills, to be talented, to carry and present yourself well, and to have a compassionate heart.”

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Art direction: Syahlia Albina Sari

Hair: KNY Wong from Miko Galere using L'Oréal Professionnel Paris

Makeup: Naoke & Karen using Lancôme

Dresses: MOEP

Jewellery: Habib Hearts On Fire jewellery by Habib Jewels

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