How a UAE-based duo is bringing an all-inclusive beauty pageant to the region

The initiative is the brainchild of two women — one, a former IT programmer, and the other a qualified HR professional

By Laraib Anwer

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Published: Thu 24 Nov 2022, 10:19 PM

A struggle that has persisted through time has been that of shifting the conversation towards a woman’s intelligence and personality rather than her appearance. The modelling industry has been trying to come to terms with this, as it portrays greater diversity and focuses on stories of grit, struggle, accomplishment, and greatness that come out of the valiant lives of women from all walks of life. Ahead of International Women’s Day next year, one such platform for everywoman will be the Miss/Mrs Arabia International Pageant, which will be held on March 4, 2023.

The initiative is the brainchild of two women — one, a former IT programmer, and the other a qualified HR professional. Thirty four-year-old founders Lamiya Lokhandwala and Apurva Trivedi have set out on a journey to revolutionise the way beauty is perceived in this part of the world with the Miss/Mrs Arabia International pageant which will be the region’s first all-inclusive beauty pageant and will see a diverse range of women, including aspiring plus-size models, single mums, and cancer and acid attack survivors. The two expats walk us through the world beneath the glamour of the runway.

“A lot is said of beauty, or beauty with brains, but what about those who overcome the odds with grit, gumption, and real mettle?” asks Lamiya Lokhandwala, MD and founder of Unify Events that will host the inaugural edition of Miss/Mrs Arabia international gala in Dubai. “Beauty should not be only for people who are thin or who are fair, it should not be biased, it should be for everyone,” adds Lamiya.

When it comes to strutting down the runway, there’s a certain image that crosses one’s mind, a specific body type and age. But this duo wants to subvert that notion. “Our aim is to promote women who are used to staying at home and who want to take part in such contests, but can’t due to certain responsibilities and commitments,” says Apurva Trivedi, co-founder of Unify Events and the brainchild behind what she believes has the potential to become the Arab world’s answer to the Miss Universe and Miss World galas.

Currently taking entries for the pageant, with auditions being held on January 5, 2023, the platform challenges the meaning of beauty and creates new constructs for the word.

“We are inviting entries from women all over the region irrespective of who they are, where they are from, what they look like, what they do for a living, what they wear as long as they have the ability to inspire other women. An inclusive event like this has never happened before and that is what makes it a simple yet quite revolutionary idea,” says Lamia.

To many the value of beauty is found through the happiness gained internally. The same goes for Apurva, who believes that if we are happy internally, then we can achieve whatever we want. The colour, size or shape of the being does not matter.

“Inner beauty is true beauty. I myself am not on that so-called perfect or thin side and have always been on the heavier side of the scale. If a person is very beautiful, but if they’re fake, then such beauty is of no use,” says Lamia.

It’s easier to put in words the impact of inclusivity on the modelling industry, rather than seeing it in real life. Has the modelling industry truly come a certain way in its reach for inclusivity and diversity?

“The modelling industry has definitely reached a level of inclusivity in today’s world, and mainly now they are focusing on intelligence which is more important. Beauty is an aspect, but I think women are more intelligent. I think the world has understood that if women make their minds up to do something, they can do whatever they want,” says Lamia.

With the strong hold that media has on people, as it influences and educates them, Lamia believes that it has given women confidence and a platform to speak up and be the rawest version of themselves.

The future of this pageant is all-women, with Lamiya and Apurva having high hopes for it.

“We have plans to take it to the rest of the Gulf region eventually, travelling each year, city by city, country after country, reaching out to millions, involving some of the most loved superstars as jury members and showcasing winners after winners with the true ability to transform people’s lives,” says Apurva.

Apart from the glitz and glamour of the runway, this show will put to display the inspiring stories of real women from the Gulf and their achievements. Applicants applying for Miss Arabia International must be aged between 18 and 28 years, whereas those applying for the Mrs Arabia International Award must be a minimum of 20 years old.

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