My entire knowledge of pageants comes from watching Miss Congeniality more times than I care to admit. The swimsuit competition, the talent competition, vying for world peace; these are all the cliche obstacles to be overcome. Just avoid a pussy grab from Trump and the sash and tiara is yours.
The pageant industry can get a pretty bad wrap, largely due to the emphasis placed on the physical appearance of contestants. We all know that pageant girl stereotype: she’s thin, blonde, beautiful, and often dumb. But are things any different here in Australia?
NSW National Finalist for the Miss Australia International pageant, twenty year old Ashlee De Silva, would attest that they are. The pageant she has entered focuses on the talents, accomplishments, and societal contributions of its participants rather than on their beauty while providing them a platform to advocate their beliefs.
We caught up with Ashlee to find out more about the pageant, the stigma she has felt as a model and the causes close to her heart.
Emma: What drew you to entering a pageant?
Ashlee: The voice. When I saw the platform I would get, I knew I would be able to have a voice, and I just have so much to say and do that it felt stupid to not take the opportunity.
E: Why this particular pageant?
A: I chose the Miss Australia International pageant because it takes a holistic approach to modeling. It allowed me to become more than just my exterior beauty and allowed me to show my inner beauty, where the passion and desire I have is what drives me to help others because it allows me to change other peoples definition of what beauty is.
E: What does being a finalist in the Miss Australia International pageant mean to you?
A: It means change. It means being able to change the stigma of what someone in the beauty industry is. That people who work within the beauty industry are smart, educated business women/men who are passionate and creative.
It gives me this amazing platform to be able to raise this money to stop suicides caused by bullying. It means I get to change young people’s lives who are affected by bullying.
E: What has been your experience working as a model?
A: My experience as a model has made me such a strong woman. The modeling industry is an uncomfortable mix of lows and highs. You’ll have an amazing runway or shoot and your confidence will peak, only to be told two days later that you’re not good enough for a company. The modeling industry is a rewarding industry but it’s cutthroat and it’s painful and you need to be prepared for that, you need to be okay with not feeling like you’re enough and strong enough to pick yourself up and tell yourself that you are more than enough. Another drawback is that people stereotype me as unintelligent because I’m a model, I’m a university student and I graduated high school with only A’s and B’s; I’ll sit down and I’ll have a conversation with people that will go deeper than my looks and people will be surprised that I can comprehend something outside of how to curl my hair and it’s frustrating as a strong, independent and smart woman, to have people assume that I’m not based off of their shallow opinions of my chosen profession.
E: Do you think there is a stigma surrounding modeling?
A: Yes, around the majority of the beauty industry. Not only models but designers, makeup artists and hairdressers. People seem to think that because we work within the beauty industry that we are air heads or uneducated, when in fact some of the most thought provoking conversations I have ever had with another person have been while I’m in the makeup chair talking to artists.
E: What are your thoughts on the term ‘plus size’?
A: It is ridiculous. There’s no need to categorise different sized models. There is no hinder on what a full figured model can do within the industry compared to someone of a smaller stature. Why does it even matter? Whether your full figured, petite, fit, tall or short, black or white; we are all beautiful and it sounds cliché but it’s true. I think everybody is beautiful and people need to be promoting this instead of making girls think less of themselves because of their exterior beauty.
E: How would you like to see the fashion industry change with regards to how it describes and promotes beauty?
A: I want more average sized models to be promoting products and in magazines. I want the younger generations of girls to know that no matter how they look on the outside they can pursue whatever they want and not be limited by the unrealistic standard of beauty that is promoted. When we were little we were surrounded by people always telling us that we could be anything we wanted, then when we enter high school we are told that to be pretty you need to fit a certain mold and then if you are pretty then you’re not smart and a bunch of ridiculous stereotypes and expectations. Let’s teach young girls and boys that having a beautiful mind is more important than having a beautiful exterior.
L: What is your definition of beauty?
A: I think beauty is in the way you think and approach the world. Humility, intellect, compassion and positivity, these are the things that are attractive.
E: What message would you like to share with other women through the Miss Australia International pageant?
A: I don’t think I have one message but to be kind to one another. Everything we’ve discussed over this interview could be fixed with compassion for others. Everything I’m trying to do as a Miss Australia International finalist is fixing problems that shouldn’t be problems… bullying, suicide, teaching people to feel beautiful again and tearing down stigmas. All these things wouldn’t be a problem if everyone was just compassionate towards one another.
At the end of my run for Miss Australia International whether I am crowned Miss Australia or not, all I know is that by raising this money and promoting my message I’m leaving this world even the tiniest bit better then how I found and experienced it, if everyone did that too imagine the place we could live in and leave for future generations.
Photography: Michael Robinson
MUA: Lilah Gow, DeLilah Productions Makeup Artistry