Celebrating beauty and grace

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Newly-crowned Miss International Sarawak, Aaliyah, waving to the audience. — Photo by Sheryl Khoo

THE search for the first Miss International Sarawak ended successfully when 18-year-old Aaliyah Wunsch was crowned during the state-level beauty pageant’s grand finale in July.

The newly-crowned beauty queen will represent Sarawak at the national level Miss International Beauty Pageant in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah this Oct 1. Also vying for the prestigious title together with Aaliyah are five other contenders who were among the Top 6 at the grand finale.

I interviewed some of the young beauties, including the newly-crowned Miss International Sarawak herself, and was impressed by the way they expressed themselves with confidence and fluency. The girls were courteous as they articulated their speech competently just as I would expect of a beauty queen.

I must applaud the organising team headed by Miss International Malaysia Sarawak state director Dato’ Raymond Valentine Jolly, for their efforts in making the state-level beauty pageant a success.

Indeed, they had brought out the best in the aspiring beauties providing yet another avenue for the ladies to further nurture the beauty in them.

Aaliyah (fourth left) and the other contenders who made it to the Top 6 during the grand finale posing with Raymond (third right) and Jawed Khan. — Photo by Sheryl Khoo

Aaliyah receiving hugs from her parents after the crowning. — Photo by Sheryl Khoo

Third largest beauty pageant

Miss International Beauty Pageant is reputed to be the third largest beauty pageant in the world in terms of the number of national winners who participate on the international stage. It has a long history of empowering young women around the world to become ‘the best version of themselves,’ who are worthy of emulation.

“It was the first Miss International Beauty Pageant to be held in Sarawak. When the National Director of the pageant, Jawed Khan asked me to be the State Director, I was not very keen at first but when I looked at their humanitarian advocacy and community focused initiatives, I eventually accepted the proposal,” Raymond explained.

“There’re a lot of Sarawak ladies who are beautiful and bright and whose talents are yet to be discovered. Don’t forget, we have a number of Sarawakians who had made it to the top in Malaysia and a good number of them had put Sarawak on the world map. I’m confident that our girls will do well at the forthcoming national-level Miss International Beauty Pageant and continue to bring Sarawak far,” he enthused.

Other prominent beauty pageants, such as Miss World Malaysia, have been organised in Peninsular Malaysia by Raymond. Indeed, Sarawakian men and women had demonstrated their prowess in a wide range of endeavours on a global scale.

Lawyer Larissa, Miss World Malaysia 2018

In the arena of beauty pageants, for instance, Larissa Ping Liew made a name for Sarawak when she was crowned Miss World Malaysia in 2018. She went further by representing the country at the 68th edition of the global Miss World pageant, held that same year in Sanya, China, where she made it into the Top 30 of the 118 contestants.

She was attired in a blue evening dress designed by Sarawak’s fashion designer, Rozie Khan, and the design got to the top five. Larissa also made it to the Top 5 in the talent category and Top 10 in the multimedia debate challenge, a remarkable achievement indeed.

During her one month stint as a beauty pageant contestant on the world stage, she had developed much self-confidence and resilience. Larissa, now 24, has just graduated from the Faculty of Law at Universiti Malaya, manifesting the fine qualities and attributes that make her a role model to young girls and all those who see her as an inspiration.

Dewi Seriestha, Miss Malaysia World 2014

Another inspiring beauty who made Sarawak proud is Dewi Liana Seriestha from Kuching. She won the Miss Malaysia World title in 2014, and represented Malaysia with flying colours at the Miss World 2014 grand finale in London, the UK.

One of the Top 25 quarter-finalists, she became the first Malaysian to win the Miss World Talent title when she mesmerised the audience with a classical opera number ‘Don Juan Triumphant’ from the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ in her powerhouse singing voice.

Dewi graduated from the National Academy of Arts, Culture and Heritage (Aswara) the following year. With her credentials, she continues to reach for the star and be a beauty worthy of emulation to the younger generation as she gives back to society, particularly in the fields that she loves, arts and music.

Beauty pageants provide an opportunity for aspiring beauties to hone their potentials, confidence and resiliency and fulfil their ambitions, accentuating on beauty with brains, good deportment and conduct in their search for an image par excellence among many a fairer sex.

The Miss International Sarawak official trainer for personal branding and communication skills, Arzmy Hargreaves, speaks confidently of the Top 6, set to represent the state at the national-level beauty pageant in Kota Kinabalu.

“I believe we have a strong line-up of contenders from Sarawak, each with their own strengths. I have seen how they worked hard as they vied for the crown. Training them for their betterment gave me a kind of satisfaction which I can’t simply describe in words. Seeing them on stage speaking with eloquence and confidence made me feel like a proud parent.

“Having a solid personal brand can help the contestant to stand out in the competition and increase her chances of being successful in both her personal and professional lives. Personal branding is creating your identity as an individual. It’s defining who you are, what you stand for, and what makes you unique, reflecting your values, goals, skillset and personality.

“It should accurately represent who you are. This helps the girls a lot in the pageant,” he said.

Arzmy taking pride in the newly-crowned beauty queen, Aaliyah. — Photo by Sheryl Khoo

A graduate in marketing, advertising and public relations from the International Business Management School, Arzmy is the chief executive officer of a branding and image strategist agency. He is also a speaker, Human Resources Development Fund (HRDF)-certified trainer, fashion designer for menswear and style aficionado, and has earned a few prestigious awards for his work.

Opportunity to nurture noble values

As he sees it, a beauty pageant is ‘a place where aspiring beauties can learn noble values, develop social skills and enhance their personalities’.

“Their exposure through the pageant’s programmes motivates them to think about their future and make plans on how to get there. A pageant promotes goal setting and can indeed be a stepping stone for girls to achieve their goals.

“A beauty queen carries a huge moral responsibility, whilst maintaining a respectable character. She has to be a spokesperson and a role model with charisma and a genuine kind heart that wants to contribute and give back to the community. She is likeable, confident, eloquent in speech, and communicates well with others,” he added.

Deputy Minister II for Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts Sarawak Datuk Snowdan Lawan (fifth right) and on his right, his wife Datin Melinda Claudia Bucking-Lawan who is also the pageant’s advisor, in a photo-call with the winner and other finalists. Also on stage are Raymond and Jawed Khan (fourth right). — Photo by Sheryl Khoo

The success of the recent Miss International Sarawak, which received much support from the    Ministry of Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts Sarawak, inspired Raymond further.
“Both the national director and I are keen on bringing the Miss International World pageant in. We had discussed this with our Japan counterpart and they had shown interest in our proposal,” he enthused.

Raymond was talking about representatives from 80 countries coming to Sarawak if the state were to host the event.

“We’re not just talking about the contestants, but also the officials who’re coming with them. So that would mean approximately 600 people coming,” he said.

This is also in line with the organisers’ efforts to help promote Sarawak arts and cultural heritage as well as the tourism industry through beauty pageants whose aim is also to create a platform for beauty queens to shed lights about their country and for women from all backgrounds to showcase their talent, intelligence and beauty.

Celebration of diversity, inclusivity

The beauty pageant is not just a competition but a celebration of diversity and inclusivity while promoting positive values and making a difference in the community.

Apart from proving her intelligence, talent, beauty and grace, the winner is an advocate of social service, a desired image of a woman who packs in all the fine qualities and attributes which makes her a beauty queen.

The pageant’s Top 3 finalists sharing a light moment with Deputy Minister II for Tourism, Creative Industry and Performing Arts Sarawak Datuk Snowdan Lawan (right). — Photo by Sheryl Khoo

According to a famous poet from the Victorian era, John Keats, ‘a thing of beauty is a joy forever, a constant source of happiness and pleasure. Its loveliness increases every moment. It will never pass into nothingness. In other words, a thing of beauty is never devalued. It becomes a source of unending joy for us. Beauty never diminishes or fades away’.

The importance of beauty pageants in developing one’s internal and exterior character qualities cannot be overstated. They teach contestants the fundamentals of womanhood, friendship, devotion, professionalism, sportsmanship, and many other virtues. When a young woman grows into the best version of herself, she succeeds.

* The story on the newly-crowned Miss International Sarawak and the other contenders who made it to the Top 6 during the grand finale will be featured in the second part of this series, to be out this Oct 1.