We put constant pressure on women. It can be easy to judge pageant contestants from an outside perspective and think what we do is shallow. Pageantry actually made me realize that every single individual remains unique and beautiful. What truly makes us stand out becomes who we are underneath and what we make of it.
MUMBAI, India — In 2011, I became the youngest female pilot in the world. Afterwards, I discovered pageantry and never looked back. I now use my platform as an advocate focused on animal rights and to inspire young girls all over the world. I founded a non-profit organization to fight against animal cruelty and give a home to abandoned pets throughout India.
As a young girl, I watched my dad work as a navy aviator, performing stunts not unlike what you see in a Tom Cruise movie. It fascinated me and I soon told my mother I wanted to be a pilot when I grew up. At 17 years old, I traveled to America and started my pilot’s course. I managed to finish in eight months. Being up in the sky felt freeing. Everything looks different from above, and you’re reminded of your mortality in a beautiful way. I carried that feeling with me then and now.
As a child, I became surrounded by strong, inspiring people who never put me in a box. They allowed me to flourish in ways I never knew possible. They rarely used the word fear. Pageantry came into my life over time and in different fashions. I considered it for the first time at 15 years old, driven by the prize money. It seemed a perfect opportunity to earn extra pocket money while still in school.
With no prior experience, my initial understanding of pageantry remained superficial. I felt anxious but excited to explore a new world, but I quickly realized how wrong my perception was. Being part of the competition motivated me to be introspective, rather than focusing on the outside.
Pageantry allowed me to find out who I was at a young age. I discovered facets of myself I never thought to nourish before. I suddenly considered what I liked and disliked; the activities I excelled at; and the things I needed to work on. I shared a stage with so many talented, powerful women. They helped set the bar for the things I aimed to accomplish with my life.
My pageantry journey taught me a lot and I never looked back. I competed in a few national pageants before entering Miss India World in 2014. Shortly after, in 2015, I competed in Miss India Universe. Seeing all these wonderful women speak with passion about their ambitions for the world filled me with pride for my country.
When I entered Mrs. Galaxy 2023, everything happened suddenly, leaving little time to mentally prepare. The contest began with an opening performance. All the contestants shared the stage, followed by a short introduction. I felt thrilled and nervous as I stared at the crowd before me. Standing on the stage, hearing my name, I felt my heart pounding out of my chest. I dreamed of bringing the crown home to India for the first time.
So much pride and love for my country fills my heart. I wish people knew the good that comes from pageantry. The experience allows you to find yourself; to become the most vulnerable, authentic version of who you are in front of the world. Contrary to popular belief, for me, being in pageants means being open with others and not comparing oneself to anyone else.
We put constant pressure on women. It can be easy to judge pageant contestants from an outside perspective and think what we do is shallow. Pageantry actually made me realize that every single individual remains unique and beautiful. What truly makes us stand out becomes who we are underneath and what we make of it. Pageantry presents an emotional journey more than anything. The looks and glamor remain a small fraction of the process. We seek women who wish to contribute to their community or the world in some way. These women do incredible work behind the scenes. To win the crown of Mrs. Galaxy 2023 proved a life-changing experience for me.
While I adore my country, some things desperately need to change. Officials wrote our constitution in 1949, after earning our independence. The penalties for animal cruelty remain miniscule and do nothing to actually protect animals. When people harm animals in India, they generally pay a small fine and get off scot-free. I contributed with my local government to legislation to change these laws. We must act to protect animals because they cannot defend themselves. With the help of my NGO Voice of the Voiceless, we rescue and take care of abandoned animals and offer them a home. I also became an ambassador to multiple other organizations and shelters.
We experienced a huge crisis in India after lockdown because people adopted pets out of loneliness. After the lockdown ended, they realized they had little time to care for these pets and left them out on the streets. Once an animal becomes domesticated, their chance at survival on the streets immensely decreases. I use my platform and my social media to uplift others and raise awareness baout issues that need to be addressed.
In the future, I will expand my NGO and find a bigger physical base to serve as a retirement home for animals. In addition, I plan to return to flying as soon as possible. Through my work, I aim to inspire young girls to pursue their dreams and not be afraid to go against the tide. Especially now, with social media, we too often compare ourselves to others. We can feel insecure in our own skin. We need to uplift one another. When we decide to come together, true power is born.
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