I could not believe it had already been a year. Time had flown so quickly. As I sat down for hair and make up I flipped through my photo album on my iPhone. Gosh, I was stunning. I had an angelic face, a slender gracefully toned body which I had showcased in cultural attire, bathing suits, and all kinds of high end clothing. My smile was perfect too. Although I couldn’t really take all the credit for that, or my body if I was being honest, but it was mine so therefore I was the one who was gorgeous – perfect. That was my story and I was sticking to it.
I beamed with the Dalai Lama in one picture, smiled demurely besides the Queen of England in another, and gave a rockstar pose (complete with the hand gestures) with Bon Jovi in a third. This had been one of the best years of my life. I had traveled around the world and had been celebrated everywhere I had gone. Billboards marked my presence and stood as odes to the perfection that was me. As the soundtrack to ‘Angel’ by Shaggy crooned in my headphones I drowned out the hustle and bustle of the backstage makeup studio and racks of beautiful ball gowns and focused on my walk down memory lane.
A year ago today I had been declared the winner. It was official – I was Miss Universe. The most beautiful woman on planet Earth. I had always known I had won the genetic gene pool, but this was proof and no one could ever take it away from me. I was indeed the fairest of them all. I had competed with stunning women from all over the world, some of whom had prepped for this their entire lives. Yet none of them had won, I had.
Behind the Scenes
From the age of 18 I had spent a significant portion of my life searching for purpose. I had graduated from high school with excellent grades but had been drawn to a beauty and fashion career rather than the pursuit of further studies. I had wanted to be more than a pretty face though – I wanted a platform. It took a few years of modelling small jobs and inherent frustrations for me to learn the business and realize I needed more. Eventually I had my ‘aha moment.’ I did not want to be just another pretty face – I wanted to be THE face.
That’s why I had decided to compete for Miss Universe. It took a year of dietary changes, a few corrective surgeries, and a very strict exercise regime, but after about a year I felt I was ready. Then came the coaching. I learned how to walk, I learned how to answer questions appropriately, I learned how to sit still for hours of professional make up. I learned that it was not as easy as it looked, then I learned how to make it look easy. I learned to distance myself from my familiar features, my face was a canvas and my body was a clothing rack. I learned to expect not to “look like myself” or “feel like myself.” I became Deadra 2.0. The better more beautiful version. I fell in love with a pageant queen as I competed in smaller pageants in preparation, who I fell in love with was my new self. I felt equal parts lucky and deserving when I finally presented my new and improved self and won Miss Universe.
I completely shed my old persona, left behind the inconsequential things I liked to do in the past and morphed. I became a smiling, waving, travelling, seemingly free spirited, bombshell who stopped traffic, started events, launched brands, graced billboards and lunched with world and industry leaders. I was Miss Universe. I felt right at home in my new skin which went so well with my new crown.
The After Math
And now it was all being taken away from me. This was the shortest year of my life and now I was simply meant to smile and hand over my hard earned crown to someone else. I cringed on the inside, while sitting perfectly still on the outside. The make up artist applied bronzer to my high cheekbones and stained my lips with a shade of lipstick called peach cobbler as I suppressed a grimace.
“We’re ready for you Deadra. You’ll be on in 15,” said a stage director.
She applied one final dash of highlighter and stepped back.
“You are the most beautiful queen I have ever seen. Perfect!” she gushed. “So what are you gonna do now?” she inquired with genuine interest.
Inwardly I froze as I gingerly stretched my long legs clad in 6-inch designer heels and disembarked from the high make up chair. “Watch and see,” I said confidently as I gifted her with one last dazzling smile. I pouted in the mirror, patted my perfectly styled hair and catwalked towards the side stage.
As soon as I arrived the lead fashion coordinator came over with my beloved crown that had become my identity and my emblem of success. She placed it firmly on my head. I was being crowned for one last time – this time there was no audience to observe the momentous occasion. I savoured this short and bittersweet reunion with the crown. They had come to pick it up about a week ago to have it cleaned and polished for the big day, today was that day.
One Final Hurrah
“Okay it’s time. Go for it,” the stage director urged quietly.
I turned on my million-watt smile and confidently stepped on to the stage. The crowd was in an uproar. I looked out at the sea of thousands of people and flashing lights, as I walked through the streaming confetti fighting the urge to wave. The scene was intoxicating and I genuinely beamed now. This is what I lived for. As I approached the host and the new Miss Universe who was controlling the diamond-like tears streaming from her brilliant sea blue eyes onto her delicate face I felt like I had been punched in the gut.
The crowd was cheering, the music was playing, the flash was going off, and the confetti was dancing in mid air but it wasn’t for me. It was for her.
I was officially the “former Miss Universe.” My reign was over. This would probably be my last time on this stage. I was the outgoing winner. Whether I wanted this or not, I was out, she was in.
I reached up, carefully displacing the crown from my own head. I smiled, I couldn’t forget to stop smiling. ‘Keep smiling,’ I encouraged myself silently. I gushed, I hugged her, I crowned her, and I faded to black. Her curtain had just opened but mine was shut – tight.
The focus remained on her. No one told me what to do after I handed over the crown. I had never rehearsed this part. I hadn’t even given it a thought to be honest. So I awkwardly put my arm on Miss Universe’s shoulder, flashed her a beaming grin, and retraced my steps backstage.
There wasn’t the usual limo waiting for me that night, even though one had picked me up to bring me to the event. I requested an Uber LUX, headed out the backstage door to go and wait for it, and hopped in the back when he finally arrived.
“You’re might dressed up ma’am. You look real pretty,” offered the uber driver.
‘Real pretty?’ I thought with disgust. I am the most beautiful girl in the universe. Well, I was.
“Thank you,” I offered meekly.
“What was taking place tonight? Looks like a real dressy affair.” he added.
Tonight, moreso than ever before I hated chatty uber drivers. Why couldn’t he just drive?!
“It was the Miss Universe pageant,” I offered grudgingly. Was he an idiot? How didn’t he know this?
“Oh yeah?” he sounded impressed. “I never really followed that kind of thing. Did you compete or are you just a well dressed audience member? That’s a really shiny dress you’ve got on to just sit and observe. You’re a pretty girl. I’m sure you could make it if you tried.”
I was too tired for this. “I didn’t compete.” I offered. “I’m actually never allowed to compete again,” I couldn’t help but add. I saw his face scrunch up in confusion as our eyes locked in the rearview mirror. As the truth of the words I had just spoken sunk in, my tummy lurched for the umpteenth time since I had removed that crown from my head.
I quickly added, “I’m not in the mood to talk.” Before he could ask me why I couldn’t compete or what I meant by again.
Then added in a softer tone, “Please just take me to the destination I specified please.” Trying to get my point across without being perceived as rude.
“My apologies,” he said. Turning up the music slightly and glancing cautiously into the rearview mirror before focusing on his actual job.
I picked up my phone and went to my photo gallery once more. As I got lost in my thoughts I began to wonder – what next?
I knew I needed to move on to the next phase but what was the next phase?
Where do I go from here?
How do I refer to myself?
What is my next career move?
Would this be considered a career?
Is there more to me than a crown that was on loan for a year?
Am I still Deadra 2.0 now that my title has expired?
What do I do next?
How do I trump my previous achievement?
What if I never do?
What happens if I never compete again?
How can I compete again? In what? Lesser pageants?
Does my beauty matter less now that it’s no longer distinctly defined as more beautiful than others?
The next year is critical, I know this. I am the last reigning queen for 12 more months then I become a year. Miss Universe 20xx.
How can I date myself in the beauty and fashion industry? Soon it will be too long since I won and every self reference will sound old and desperate?
I thought the stage was unfriendly this time, but next year I won’t even have a place on the stage.
I have been on the conveyor belt of beauty. And I’ve just been pushed off the assembly line. A new model has taken my place and I’m entirely unsure of where to go or what to do next.
I know my life has to be more than one moment, no matter how much time was spent dreaming or building up to that moment. I know my legacy and my existence are about more than winning competitions and wearing crowns. I know there is life after what seems like the pinnacle of success and even if that life is lived outside of the spotlight it is still a life worth living. I know that I have the ability to set new goals, to achieve things that might be deemed even more worthwhile by some and less worthwhile by others – but all that matters is how worthwhile I accept it to be. I know to some this doesn’t even count as an achievement, but to me it’s all I ever wanted, it was everything I dreamed it would be, and now it’s gone. I know I shouldn’t but I am feeling lightheaded without my crown. I burst into tears as the make up melts and my nose begins to run.
“Are you okay?” asks the uber driver.
“Noooo!” I wail. Knowing even then I cannot put into words what worries me. He won’t understand.
More tears gush down my face. I kick off my shoes, curl up on the backseat, hearing a rip in the seam of my dress. I ignore it and curl up even tighter. The tears feel good. I keep crying. For this moment, I am inconsolable. Life as I have dreamed it, experienced it, and known it, is over.