Recently, I’ve caught up with Shweta Sekhon, Miss Universe Malaysia 2019 and in this exclusive interview, she talks about her journey to the pageantry world, body positivity and launching her very own campaign which ultimately proves that she’s not just your average beauty queen.
***The following interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Tell us about your journey so far from your humble beginnings to competing in one of the most prestigious pageants in the world.
In comparison to when I’ve competed back in Malaysia and at Miss Universe 2019, the game is very different because at the international stage, the deal is serious. My journey in the pageant as a beauty queen, ever since I was crowned in March has been a roller coaster ride, of course, but it was an amazing journey. Before boarding for the flight to Atlanta, the advice that I was given was to not feel intimidated because there are going to be 89 more beautiful, humble, confident and smart girls. However, ever since I landed there, I was telling everyone that I was very blessed to be part of the 89 girls who were just as excited as I was for this journey. They were really open to share their experiences, stories, culture and traditions of their respective countries which eventually, did not make me feel intimidated at all. In fact, I came back feeling more confident and empowered because the atmosphere there topped off with meeting those very beautiful and mighty delegates and the entire team of Miss Universe was definitely a once in a lifetime moment, although it may sound very cliche. Not to forget the unconditional love and support, especially from my family. Ever since I’ve stepped into this whole world of glam and glitz, it has always been my late grandmother, mom and sister supporting me. These 3 musketeers of mine have always been there for me since Day 1. I’m really blessed that my family has been extended with the Miss Universe Malaysia organization. Throughout my journey of 11 days, each of them kept checking on me via the group chats by boosting me with daily quotes. My country had been part of my support system too because I kept giving them updates via live sessions every morning before leaving my room to head out for the event. That was my daily Vitamin C and I’m very lucky that I felt like the daughter of Malaysia because everyone was pampering me with loads of love and support.
Who or what was your greatest inspiration to achieve a feat as great as this?
My inspiration, to be honest, was to see my team and mentor, Elaine, feel proud of me because I loved my national costume. Ever since childhood, my favourite segments of Miss Universe or any beauty pageants were when they did the Q&A segments and the national costume round. I loved seeing how creative designers from all around the world get and how they would portray the best things from each of their respective countries into the national costumes. When I was there just to be featured for a minute or two in the pageant, and came backstage to look at my phone, I saw the video of the excitement, especially on Elaine’s face. I felt really proud at that moment and when I landed back in Malaysia, she told me that I was one of her best Miss Universe. That was literally, an accomplishment that every queen wants to listen to.
Your costume for the Miss Universe pageant was called A Peranakan Indulgence and it not only gave a glimpse of the rich heritage of the Peranakan culture, but also, it gave an insight on Malaysia as a whole. How does that costume resonate with you, as the wearer and how did your upbringing as a Malaysian moulded you into the person you are right now?
When my designer, Carven Ong, asked me on what kind of national costume do I see myself in, I just simply told him that I was a foodie and I want it big with food elements in it. I felt that as Malaysians, one of the greatest factors that resonate with all of us and keeps us united is the food because we’re all foodies. The moment he showed me the sketch, I was in awe and I told him that the costume did indeed represent me as a whole. Apart from that, I could understand this outfit a lot as I have a Chinese aunt, some of them in my team are a mix of Peranakan and as well, as Elaine, if I’m not mistaken so, I could hear the experiences from their end. The whole platform filled with the kuih-muih (local delicacies) made me really happy and having the wings made me feel like a Super Woman. Everyone said that I looked like Gal Gadot so, I just felt very strong and confident when I had all of those effects combined into one costume.
Besides that, I feel that Malaysians are filled with love and understanding and from small, we are taught to stand as one. We might be of different races, languages, cultures and traditions but were also taught to be understanding and to sit around the same table although we are eating different types of food. The whole upbringing has moulded me into someone who’s much more understanding and very open-minded. I love welcoming new things in my life and I love learning. Therefore, I’m blessed to be born in a country where the people are so diverse and that eventually made me into a person who seeks positivity in everything that I do.
What has been the most challenging part being Miss Universe Malaysia 2019 and representing the country in an international pageant?
As cliche as it may sound, it has not been very challenging for me. I wouldn’t say it was a challenge because for me, being Miss Universe Malaysia is all about having the responsibility to uplift your country’s name, to make the people proud and to be the best version of yourself. It’s a job. Of course, challenges like feeling down when you feel that you didn’t do your ultimate best to keep people happy exist. However, I’ve come to an understanding that if a coin has 2 sides; a tail and a head, you can’t exactly satisfy everyone because not everyone is open-minded so, on my side, I’m only going to give my best and do what makes me and my team happy. I’ve also faced anxiety when I was newly crowned because I suddenly got all the attention and it’s not a normal thing for a normal girl to be doing. I’ve gone through that by listening to instrumental music. I love listening to them as I feel that they speak to me even without the lyrics so I used to sit back in my car, in my room or even in the washroom when I want to freshen up whilst listening to instrumental music hence, it relaxes me and I come out feeling more boosted.
Describe beauty in 3 words.
Limitless. Fun. Going all out.
Earlier this year, you’ve started a campaign called the #YourBodyYourSay campaign; how do you think this campaign had given an impact on the young women out there and what’s your take on body positivity?
I feel that it’s equally important for the younger generation and as well as the older generation to understand about body positivity. People know the issue regarding body-shaming exists but no one wants to talk about it and even if they do, they’ll not do anything about it. I feel that education from a young age on body-positivity is important and elderlies should stop giving derogatory comments. Eventually, the problem would be solved all by itself. I’m so glad that I’m talking about it via the launch of my very own campaign called the #YourBodyYourSay campaign because I want to educate people on the importance of self-love, embracing yourself and to be mentally strong. I’ve seen the campaign impacting people through my social media and also on my on-site activities as I get messages frequently. People feel more confident because I preach on the importance of going all healthy, mental strength and self-love because these 3 factors are important. If God wills, I want to maintain this spirit by getting my campaign to keep running because I feel that somehow a change would be made. I’ve seen not only girls, but boys too, looking at themselves in a very different manner after I’ve given my talk. It makes me happy.
Beauty pageants provide an avenue for female empowerment too. In your perspective, what does female empowerment mean to you and what are the ways women can empower other women?
To me, an empowered woman is someone who knows her stand, knows her stake, who is strong, confident and is a trendsetter, Basically, she doesn’t allow the wind to push her around. Women empowerment is able to motivate people and make them stand united whilst creating a mood that boosts up their confidence. For instance, in Miss Universe, all 90 of us were empowered in our own ways and we were reflecting this whole factor of women empowerment to each other. All women should just stand together and not feel that they’re in a race to outreach or outsmart each other. Trust me, it’ll be much more different when the change is made.
Nowadays, various groups are calling out beauty pageants and fashion shows for setting unrealistic beauty standards. What’s your take on that?
I disagree with this because people need to understand that when you talk about fashion shows, you talk about models and models don’t talk. You don’t have Q&A segments. On the other hand, beauty pageants are a platform where they allow you to shine and to give out your opinions on pressing issues. They build a group of women who are empowered, strong, able to educate people from all around the world and able to voice out their opinions without feeling intimidated or scared. Yes, we do have one Miss Universe crowned, but the other 89 other girls are still working all around the world, in one motive; to motivate people and to voice out their opinions. To me, beauty pageants give birth to role models and leaders in a full package.
What would your advice be to young women who would like to curate a future for themselves in the pageantry world and Miss Universe, in specific?
As cliche as this sounds, just be yourself! Do not try to follow the girl that you think has a high potential of winning because beauty pageants seek the uniqueness within you. They want to see your true personality and as well as simplicity and purity. Beauty pageants also seek for someone who is able to share her compassionate love and understanding to people of all ages, skin colours and races because a beauty queen mingles with people from all walks of life. She also needs to be humble and open minded at all times. Currently, I’m mentoring the Miss Universe 2020 finalists and I’ve told them that attitude determines your altitude. So, just follow this quote and you’ll make it!
So, what’s next for you in the long run after Miss Universe? Any future projects that you’re working on right now?
As of now, my plan is to go back to university as I want to complete my education and it’s another goal of mine actually. However, I’m not going to leave my line and I’m going to be working on my #YourBodyYourSay campaign. If God is able to open doors for me, I’m just going to continue with it while studying.