India's Harnaaz Sandhu was crowned Miss Universe during the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant in Israel on December 13, 2021. Photograph:( AFP )
Ms Universe 2021 Harnaaz Sandhu talks to WION about bringing the crown home at a time when the beauty industry is being called out for promoting unrealistic stereotypes
Twenty-one years after Bollywood actor Lara Dutta won the Ms Universe title in 2000, 21-year-old Harnaaz Sandhu has yet again brought the crown home.
But in the last 21 years, the beauty industry has had to revaluate itself and has faced global criticism for promoting unrealistic stereotypes of perfection. Brands are trying to be more inclusive; their marketing strategies have been rejigged to promote body positivity and "real" beauty.
Some get it right and some fail miserably. And social media spares no one.
And yet even in 2021, beauty pageants continue to aspire millions.
Here's a case in point. When Sandhu won, she clutched the runner's up hands and broke down in tears. Her reaction went viral and Indians felt proud of her feat. From Bollywood stars to political figures, everyone has given Sandhu a rousing welcome back home
In an exclusive and candid chat with WION, Miss Universe 2021, Harnaaz Sandhu, talks of her journey to bring the crown home to India after 21 years.
When asked about the Ms Universe pageant and the challenges which she faced, Sandhu says, "It's just like the Olympics. It's not just about glamour."
She adds that the biggest stigma attached to the pageant is that it only focuses on ideals of "beauty" when in fact, a strong personality, quick wit and a sharp mind are required for you to make it to the final rounds.
Sandhu has won the title at a time when the beauty industry in South Asia is still being called out for promoting fairness creams and skin-lightning products. So how does she reconcile with all this?
Sandhu responds with a smile, "We all come from different backgrounds, different skin tones and communities...we all are there to embrace and empower each other." She adds that the pageant is an example of inclusivity.
Talking to WION about what she hopes to do now that she has won the title, Sandhu says that she wants to break stereotypes associated with beauty queens. One of her pet projects is to create more awareness about menstrual hygiene. She says she will use her platform to do the same.
Sandhu's mother is a gynaecologist and the latter's experiences with patients have given Sandhu strong impetus to be a voice for the cause.
Let's not forget that all beauty pageant winners in India have followed a rather predictable path of venturing into Bollywood. So, would Sandhu do the same?
Well, for now, she says it's soon to talk of her Bollywood dreams but she adds that she has been doing theatre for five years.
With great power comes great responsibility, they say. What does Sandhu hope to achieve with this title and platform?
"Ms Universe is all about being confident, to be and even create role models every single day," she says with a winning smile.