Current holder of the national pageant title– Mrs Asia UK – Meenakshi, inverts the stereotypical trajectory of a beauty queen, having affected a significant amount of social change before actually winning the aesthetic credit. The impressive icon walked away with two shimmering crowns during the course of the competition, also emerging victor for the talent round where she “drew from” her “vast experience as a social care worker, presenting the journey of a woman who had finally broken free of a 17 year-long abusive marriage.” Her act mixed social consciousness and cabaret, reflecting the contest winner’s wider ambitions: “winning this glamourous platform has allowed me to intensify the light on a lot of social issues, from domestic violence to women’s confidence in the workplace, and child protection and adoption, another area in which I specialise. I’m also now helping the homeless in my home community of West London.” This involved bringing together local residents in the area to deliver clothes and food to those who are needing the essentials in the current crisper climate. “Celebrity is a fun vector for accelerating positive change,” the caring Queen added. “Small actions can result in a huge transformation.” The talent round involved Meenakshi putting together a 3 min film, which concisely but powerfully depicted the suffering of the domestic female survivor. “I also had posters on my body,” Meenakshi elaborated, “where the climax moment revolved around me removing oppressive black attire to reveal a beautifully proud Bollywood dress. This symbolised woman not bending to patriarchal expectation and instead reclaiming her body and freedom to choose. I hope with the media exposure, I can continue to raise awareness about many more important issues.” Recent Winner of the Miss World title 2017, Indian beauty Manushi Chhillar, has already messaged Meenakshi to collaborate on a future project together. The idea of ‘international peace’ has never seemed so sincere.
Indeed, Meenakshi has had a wealth of social care experience back in India, being the first woman from a traditionally patriarchal family to go into higher education, which she only ever excelled at, and built on adeptly through her career. “I graduated with a gold medal at MA level and have been able to work with various NGOs and charities since, for example the NSPCC. I also continue to touch base with many Indian organisations. For example, I was part of a programme that helped underprivileged children, who had learning and physical disabilities, to help them assimilate into society. We used activities such as sewing and carpentry.” Interestingly, Meenakshi was also the youngest Westminster official to enter that field of work when she came to London. However, another refreshing dimension to Meenakshi’s win is her unique attitude to what was her incredible over-35, age-defying victory. A mature woman, highly established, as well as being a wife and mother, the unconventional fire-starter propagates a message of “beauty with great purpose.” She is an ardent believer in collapsing the divide between new and perceived ancient traditions. For example, acting as “one-woman army”, she has organised vibrant cultural events, such as Holi, which “preserve the colour and wisdom of Indian heritage,” in a way that excites and educates the younger generation too. “My son absolutely loves these events! Honestly, I believe beauty is to do with life experience and proactivity, and sharing my cultural roots is just one part of that. I have a lot to offer the world. Being attractive is more than a good-looking face – it’s not even just about personality (and Meenakshi has prior won this category back in India), but about one’s soul. Having a zero figure doesn’t give back to the community, or indeed to the self. Beauty goes beyond the physical to the internal and infinitely rich.” Thus, as a reliable role model, “in lieu of the standard showroom model”, Meenakshi shows us that what defines a beautiful person goes beyond brains, and even charisma, to the timeless qualities of good character and being able to shed one’s inhibitions to express their truest self. This is what really progresses and makes an impression on reflecting society. “Have the right attitude,” she aptly advised, “and trust yourself. Remember, even ‘impossible’ says ‘I am possible’: don’t give into discouragement and fear.”
What’s next for you?
Hopefully being able to continue on with my many social projects. For example, I have started up an issue-based theatre group, where our first script will be on raising awareness on domestic violence. It’s called Jan Natya Manch London (People's Theatre), and the aim is to entertain public with a social message. The Mrs Asia International title final is also coming up at the end of the year so wish me luck!
What initially drew you to applying to the contest?
As well as loving education, Bollywood was a massive influence on me growing up. I always wanted to take my work and combine it with showbiz. I wanted to use my fame for good and show the world the importance of real, long-term responsibility.
What was your favourite part of the Mrs Asia UK contest?
It’s hard to narrow it down. Every part of it was special. Doing the choreography for the opening dance round was invigorating. It was great to be able to learn all these wonderful Bollywood dance moves. Winning the talent round was naturally a highlight. Each and every judge applauded and asked so many important questions around the issue of domestic violence. Another remarkable moment was the introduction round. I was able to honestly state a core truth about myself: ‘it is great to be representing two great nations on one prestigious platform. Great Britain holds my heart, and India will always be my soul. That background it what grounds and roots me.’
You encourage cultural diversity in women’s rights, helping London organisations such as the Southall Sisters, a solidarity group for black women. Can you give further comment?
There is much institutional prejudice, for all women. Whether it’s in IT, the arts, or beauty, it’s important to empower women from all backgrounds. Everyone deserves a fair shot at their professional dreams. As women of colour bigotry is a shared problem.
Finally, who’s been a big support in your life?
If I didn’t have a supportive, encouraging husband, the amazing Tarun Kumar, I don’t know where I’d be. It’s very important for husbands and partners to be supportive to their wives.