Mangaluru: The notion of a beauty pageant often evokes imagery of young and beautiful women competing for the crown. Although these women are required to be many things such as intelligent, elegant, and kind, there is one indispensable requisite that comes before everything: they have to be unmarried.
The fact that modern-day society is inherently biased against married women (with or without children) is commonly noted everywhere, and the evidence of such a bias is especially apparent in the beauty pageant industry. However, the stereotype may not last for long if women like Anjali Rao have their way.
Bengaluru-based Anjali Rao is one of the finalists who will take part in the Mrs India Earth 2019 – a beauty pageant reserved for married women. The pageant witnessed participation from nearly 50 women from India, UK, and Dubai, and the finale is set to take place in New Delhi on September 28.
Although Anjali’s preparation for the competition is in full swing, she agreed to sit down with Team NewsKarnataka for a brief chat and here are the excerpts.
I thought we’d start by talking a little about your upbringing. Is it true that you were born and brought up in coastal Karnataka?
Yes, I’m a Kannadiga! I was born in Dharmastala and raised in Udupi. My Dad is from there. I finished my schooling in Udupi before studying PU at St Agnes College in Mangaluru.
What were your favourite memories growing up in this part of the world?
School days! I had recently paid a visit to my school and met some of my teachers who were quite happy to see me. It brought back good old memories in Udupi. I remember as a child going to the “Paryaya festival” organised by the Sri Krishna Mutt. I fondly remember devouring Goli bajje (or Mangalore bonda), Patrode and all the delicacies!
Then how’d you end up working out of Bengaluru?
Well, I actually began my career as an air hostess for Air Deccan. I hold a Bachelor’s degree in Mass Communication and Journalism and did a short stint at Zee Kannada as a News Caster. After that, I worked as an Editor and a Content Writer for several online portals in Singapore. Currently, I’m working for a leading IT service provider (Wipro) as a Tech writer in Bengaluru, the Silicon Valley of India.
Since it seems like you’re comfortably employed, what drove you to participate in a beauty pageant? Was it some sort of a childhood fascination?
Every girl at some point in her life has surely dreamt that one day she will have a crown on her head. As a teenager, so did I. But as a middle-class girl, I focused on my studies, and then my career and later on got married and had a baby. Since I was raising a family, I also started feeling like I should maintain my individuality as a woman.
A lot of women think that after they are married, have babies and raise a family - that’s the end of it. I want them to know that this is not the end; instead, it is just the beginning.
Mrs India Earth is not all about glitz and glamour. I think this contest has an impact on women empowerment because it gives a platform for women like me to be heard on different levels, and most importantly, it can place us in leadership and mentorship roles. This platform can provide me with many important skills that I can apply to my future career and also help other women in need.
I would like to thank the Founder Directors Mrs Ritika Vinay & Vinay Yadawa and also HCWA (Philanthropy Partner), and Team Mrs India Earth for having given me a platform to acknowledge beauty, knowledge, and skills in front of the world. It is an opportunity to go after the better version of myself.
You spoke a little about the stigma associated with beauty pageants. What stigma is that? What do you think stops older women from participating in a beauty pageant?
I think that pageantry is not just about pretty women anymore. Empowered and independent women are here to stay. Beauty pageants glorify women and don’t objectify them. Mrs India Earth helps women find their personality, find their own strengths and weaknesses as a person, gain confidence, and raise their self-esteem, and prove to people that it is not impossible to have beauty as well as brains. Beauty pageants have given older women a platform to acknowledge their beauty, knowledge, and skills in front of the world.
As a beauty pageant contestant, I’d love to hear your views on the modern-day beauty standards for women. Do you think pageants are generally misunderstood?
Yes, beauty pageants are misunderstood. It’s not just about beauty or brains anymore. It’s about both. However, we are moving ahead. This is a new era. If men can have body-building contests that are essentially based on their looks, why can’t women take part in a beauty pageant?
I would like to add that most of the women’s magazines are run by women and read by women. Physical beauty is a huge part of our economy and our culture. The overall Beauty Business in India is growing rapidly with the cosmetics market growing at 15-20% annually.
But several beauty pageants have courted controversy like Miss India 2019 pageant held recently. What is your take on that?
Well, if you look at actresses like Bipasha Basu and Sushmita Sen, they are considered to be beautiful. So we are progressing.
All I can say is that Mrs India Earth has no such criteria. You can be of any colour and any size (as long as you’re fit). This competition is all about how you balance your life and whether you’re physically and mentally fit.
On the same note, what would you say are some of the issues that you are most passionate about?
I’m passionate about causes pertaining to women and children. The current situation in India is heartbreaking. Women and children are being sexually abused. So, I want to highlight their plight and talk about issues involving them.
Apart from that, I am also a contributor to an NGO and I regularly spend time with students at a government school. Most recently, I celebrated Independence Day with them and we planted saplings together.
And how has your family responded after you qualified for the finale? Are they excited?
Absolutely! My family is my biggest support. My mother is my inspiration. I am happily married to the most wonderful man who is literally my better half. I am a first-time mommy to a baby girl who is now a year and a half.
Has having a child changed the way you view the world?
Yes, I now see the world through a child's eyes and I have discovered that there is magic after all! Even a small stick in my child’s eyes is magical. It can be a wand, a pen. It can be anything and I can see that too.
I have also started caring about how the country is being run after becoming a mother. I care about our surroundings, safety, and people. I worry about things like the environment, toxins in plastic toys, or pesticides and what they might mean for the future of our children.
Who do you look up to for inspiration, especially in the beauty pageant or fashion industry?
Sushmitha Sen. She is the epitome of beauty, intelligence, and courage. I loved the way she answered the question posed to her at the Miss Universe contest. I came across a video of her speech at the "Save and Empower Girl Child" Fashion Show in Lilavati Hospital. Her graceful words seemed so powerful to me. She said, “You cannot change the world but you change one soul, you change one thought …” Her approach towards motherhood, the way she conducts her life, and the way she is raising two amazing girls is such a serene and beautiful sight. She is a single mother who has adopted two cute little lovely girls, Renee and Alisah. She stands by her words.
Finally, what do you see yourself doing after the Mrs India Earth pageant?
I believe that Mrs India Earth has a serious role to play in empowering women. My goal is to help promote female empowerment and help married women to be stronger, to be better and to live their dreams no matter what shape, size, or colour they are. I want to promote a healthy lifestyle and a general form of self-love.
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