The following is an article based on an interview by Valerie Wang Jia Yu of the Singapore Straits Times. The article was published in the Sunday Life! print edition section May 24, 2009. Photo © JE Nilsson for CMC 2009
Winning the crown
In 1999 when I won the Miss Singapore Universe title, I was 24. I had just graduated with Honours from the National University of Singapore, NUS, and was pursuing two separate Masters degrees.
One was a Master of Arts in English Language with NUS and the second was a part-time Master of Science course in Information Technology with Nanyang Technological University, NTU.
Literally sitting with the crown in my lap, I subsequently graduated with both degrees in 2000 and 2001 respectively.
Curiosity and ambition
I suppose there could be many small reasons why I chose to join the Miss Singapore pageant back then, but it comes down to a combination of curiosity and ambition.
The first reason is that I’m always one to look to expand my repertoire of experiences. Up until my university days, I’ve always prioritized education and academic training. I also noted that I tended to be rather nervous and shy during presentations at tutorials. In that sense, being in a pageant presented a new challenge to me. It would be an event where I will need to be able to present myself on stage, in front of a large audience, overcoming stage fright.
I decided to take up that challenge and overcome my fear of presenting myself in front of many people. I even joked about this at my recent Doctoral graduation dinner celebration: after parading in a bikini in front of Donald Trump and millions of viewers, there’ll be nothing more frightful thereafter in terms of public appearances.
A plethora of opportunities
The second reason that drew me to the pageant was the opportunities that the event presented for the young women who chose to be in it. Contrary to what some might think, that pageants are demeaning to women, personally, I think pageants provide an excellent arena in which young women are given a voice, or at least, they are given the chance to find their voice. Being on stage, these young women are not only encouraged to polish their self-presentation skills but they are encouraged to have their say in the pageant’s related portfolio, voicing their thoughts on women’s issues for example or lending their services to humanitarian efforts.
My portfolio as Miss Singapore Universe for example, was quite broad. Part of my work as Miss Singapore Universe entailed efforts on the humanitarian front, such as heightening awareness on AIDS in Singapore, spending time with the elderly living in elderly care homes. Other aspects of my portfolio included working with the Singapore Tourism Board in promoting Singapore as a choice country of destination for tourism, especially within the regions of Southeast-Asia and Asia-Pacific.
After the crown
There were no radical changes after I won the title in terms of lifestyle or relations with family and friends. But with the win, came a plethora of interesting opportunities that one could take in life and I think that’s where it got interesting for me. Most of all, I’m grateful for most things that came my way after winning the pageant – the trip to Trinidad and Tobago for example, where the international Miss Universe pageant was held in 1999, was truly an unforgettable experience by any standards! The people I’ve met along the way, delegates of other countries as well as the locals from the country is nothing short of a fantastic experience. The international event was a networking opportunity of a lifetime. It gave me insight into the beauty of the diversity of cultures, values, traditions, language, food and religions; and these are aspects that I brought with me in my research interest all the way into my doctoral thesis, which is about how Scandinavian top managers make it in Singapore.
Putting “Miss Singapore Universe Winner 1999” on the resume
Being Singapore’s delegate to the international pageant is something that I will always be proud of. On the international scene, more is expected of you. You stop being just a beauty queen and take on an ambassadorial role for the country, you answer questions about your country, its history and its socio-economic and financial policies. I think that to the majority of the public, pageants were (and still are) seen as entertainment, similar to how we would view a sports event, a fashion show, a reality series etc. I think having been Miss Singapore Universe is pretty much a non-issue with my friends and colleagues at the university.
My professional interest however, lies in academia, research and writing.
Style and self-presentation
I think beauty is an evolving concept, and over the years I believe the young women participating internationally have become more career oriented and this is reflected in how the local pageants are run. The professional aspects of style and self-presentation, has become more important than just good looks.
Pageants are after all a very important recruiting ground for all kinds of front persons aiming for a career in the tourism, public relations, modeling, human resources, entertainment, television, movie and the fashion industries – all important, major businesses with global turnovers that count into the billions.
Oprah Winfrey, who is one of the wealthiest and most influential woman on the planet for example, began her career by winning a pageant.
A fantastic opportunity
I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for any young woman to take part in the event because it does offer a platform in which young women can launch themselves in their career. I think that the experience of the pageant in itself is tremendously enriching for all involved. You learn a lot on the job, you learn from other people’s life experiences you meet along the way and you can make lifelong friends with other young delegates you meet at the international event.
There are a lot of fun memories of all the friends I made that I still come back to. If I could do it all over again, I would do it all over again and do it better.