Interview Miss Universe Singapore: Shi Lim

By Lena Xiao

In 2013, we might be less aggressive–or at least less confrontationally so–as a global society about female beauty, but absolutely no less conscious of it. Which is why we have internationally televised contests, most famously the Miss Universe pageant, where women get to be judged on the genes they inherited and their meticulous management thereof, how comfortable they feel strutting a bikini and heels, and whether they can answer with the best interview questions–or is that all there is to the pageant?

According to this year’s Miss Universe Singapore, Shi Lim, however–who, for the record, majored in cognitive science and graduated top of her class from New York University in 2012, the pageant paradox is that it is much more about inner growth than looking outwardly good. “It requires a strong sense of self,” she says. “When you are constantly being compared to throngs of other stunningly beautiful women, and being scrutinized and criticized for every aspect of your appearance and your life, it really forces you to look inside yourself and discover all the ways you are beautiful as a person, from the inside.”

But is the pageant still anti-feminist though? Lim doesn’t deny that they can be–”after all, you are being judged on your body and physical appearance.” Rather than relentlessly asserting that pageantry is as affirmative action and PC as say, applying to work at Starbucks, she acknowledges that while “pageants can be inherently sexist and objectify women, that can be said for a lot of other things, too.” But Lim urges pageant critics to look past the event’s surface, and all of the routine criticisms about it. She contends that, like a lot of more socially “laudable” pursuits, pageants “take a lot of hard work, discipline, and commitment.”

And, the pageant isn’t all fun and games–the beauty queens often stand for hours on end, run on as little as three or four hours of sleep, and must be extremely quick on their feet. “Things change, schedules change, you never know what’s going to happen next,” says Lim. “There are no second chances. You always have to be prepared–if not, then too bad.”

As for why Lim joined the pageant? “Initially, I wanted to find a way to reconnect with the Singaporean community, especially after being away for so many years” (Lim left her home country, Singapore, after middle school, and has lived in Canada and the US thereafter). She calls the experience one of self discovery, and something “definitely out of my comfort zone.” And how does she deal with critics who might overlook her intelligence because of her beauty queen status? “I would say, ‘I’m sorry you feel that way,'” says Lim. “I think this pageant has taught me I don’t have to respond to or care about what people think of me.”

So what’s the grand prize for winning the pageant? Among other things, an apartment in New York with Miss USA–something Lim, who feels most at home in New York, is motivated by. “I really miss New York,” says the Singaporean beauty. “If I could go back, I would, and the first thing I would do is go to my sushi restaurant, order a full meal, and then go to Long Island City to watch the NYC skyline.”

And one last thing our New York alum wants to say? “Be kind when you are watching the pageant. These are just girls who are putting themselves out there, and that is a very brave things to do.”

The Miss Universe Pageant is on Saturday November 9th in Moscow Russia and the contest will be live broadcast at 9pm on MSNBC. Good luck and best wishes from all of us, New York City awaits for your return.

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