For the second week in a row the Irish Diamond Queens are representing for their system and Country! Blessing, who harks from Zimbabwe originally discusses the importance of cultural identity, how we can all embody a little more spirit and what it means to be authentically ourselves; in life not just pageants. Stop in for a highly emotional Queen interview.
Your Full Name?
What is your current title?
Miss Diamond Ireland 2021.
How many times did you compete for your title?
What does your system stand for and why is this important to you?
Diamond stands for celebrating the beauty and diversity of every woman. Being a person who comes from a multicultural background, this is important to me because these days, there's no one size fits all definition of a person's cultural identity, let alone a universal definition of beauty. I think it's important to embrace the fact that everyone has traits which make them unique and instead of letting that divide us, we should uplift each other for our strengths and help each other through our weaknesses. Very often, we see people's perceived potential being defined by where they come from but our beauty as women comes from us being able to think differently to one another so we can share and learn from each other whether that's about cultural values, things we're good at or ways that will help other people overcome a challenge we have faced.
Can you tell me a bit about your chosen platform?
I was born in Zimbabwe, grew up in Ireland and moved to Guernsey (Channel Islands) in my late teens/early twenties so for a long time, I struggled with establishing my identity as a person because I never really had one culture or nationality I could say I completely fit into. I remember in my younger days being told to just "keep my head down and focus on school" because I never really belonged in any of the places I lived growing up. My family and a lot of my friends who also have multi-cultural backgrounds adopted this mindset because of the experiences they had through being in a new place, so breaking the mould was never really presented as an option to me. I found that I didn't have anyone I could look up to or use as a muse or inspiration because I was surrounded by people who had never really been in my position - no matter how good their intentions were.
Internally, there was this conversation going on which was reinforced by what was happening around me. Being told I "don't look Zimbabwean" or being told "my English is very good" or simply being overlooked for opportunities based on the assumption I wouldn't be able to rise to the challenge almost validated what I was being told and so for a long time, I just concentrated on existing rather than actually living. It wasn't until I turned 17 when I began to adopt a more independent mindset and started being less afraid of the unknown which I think is where the foundations for my platform as we know it today started out.
My platform is about encouraging young people to aim high and persevere, regardless of where they come from. With whole families moving around the world, a person's cultural identity is no longer as easy to define. Having been through this myself, I know that young people can often be affected by society's negative stereotypes around race and culture. I think young people shouldn't be made to feel like their potential to achieve is defined by where they come from or whether they fit in with the people around them.
What do Beauty Pageants mean to you and how would you define them?
When I think of it, I don't call it competing in beauty pageants - I call it competing in pageants. Simply because I think pageantry runs way deeper than the beauty aspect and that's what I love about it. At first, I was like a deer in the headlights and didn't really know what to do with myself or how I wanted to shape my pageantry journey.
Looking back, I think that was the best place for me to start because finding out for myself what I could gain from pageants had me fully invested in my growth. It's like when you tell a child something, they won't be inclined to believe you until they've seen it for themselves. Throughout my time in pageantry, I have learned how to keep my composure in stressful situations, sportsmanship, camaraderie, styling tips but above all - how to bounce back from failure. In my ten years of doing pageants on and off, I've won two titles so you can imagine how many times I've either not placed or come close to winning. It takes real strength for a person to face their weaknesses and vulnerabilities head on, work on them, come back stronger and go through that process over and over again. But through it all, I've gradually come closer to being the person I needed when I was younger and that's something I will forever be grateful to pageantry for.
When did you enter your first beauty pageant and why?
I entered my first pageant in 2009 - it was Miss African Spirit. At the time, I was more interested in fashion and editorial modelling so I entered the pageant because I felt having a title would add credibility to my name. I think the biggest misconception I had going into it was that pageant models are the same as editorial models or fashion models or runway models. I soon came to realise that each category of modelling required a very different set of skills and the more I found out about pageantry, the more I became intrigued and that's how I got hooked... Now here we are many tries and two successful titles later!
What is something important you would tell a newcomer to Beauty Pageants?
Remember that synergy is better than compromise. Synergy is when we recognise someone doing something well or better than us, and taking the opportunity to learn from them so we can adopt only the bits that complement our existing ways of doing things. It's different to compromise where you sacrifice one way of doing things in favour of another. If you're constantly comparing yourself to others or constantly changing direction because you want to replicate someone else's journey, you'll never reach your full potential.
I've fallen into this trap before of asking myself "what does she have that I don't have?" or thinking "if she can win then so can I" instead of thinking "she's succeeding at something I'm not very good at - how can I learn from her?". Of course, there can only be one person who comes away with the crown but that doesn't mean to say you don't come away having won something whether that's more onstage or interview experience, new friends, learning about a weakness you can improve on or discovering a strength you can utilise.
Although pageants can be fun and an opportunity to make new friends, it's sometimes easy to get caught up in all the competitiveness or negativity. Make sure you don't fall into the trap of spending your energy on the wrong areas because you'll lose focus and direction and when you're not achieving what you want because of it, you'll get disheartened. Before you know it, it becomes a vicious cycle and you're not in the right headspace for you to allow growth to happen.
What is the most important thing you have done or will be doing with your current title?
The most important thing I aim to do with my title is to turn conversations into actions. I want to be present in the communities I'm already involved with and use my platform to amplify the voices of those who want to speak up on the challenges they're facing.
A good example of where we've seen positive change come from powerful conversations and advocacy is Miss Diamond beginning to accept applications from the LGBTQ+ community. That's something that didn't happen overnight, and I have no doubt the dialogue around that decision was opened up because of all the amazing work achieved by the 2019 queens.
I also want to expand my reach and network into the wider culturally diverse communities both in the UK, Ireland and also on an international scale. As I write this, we are in week one of my reign and I have a few activities in the pipeline which I hope will help me leave a mark on the world of pageantry, within ethnic minority groups.
Do you think it is important for a queen to use her title to support her system and take part in community and charity work?
I think it's important for a queen to use her title to support her system and take part in community and charity work. However, I think before any contestant enters a system, they should be sure that what it stands for aligns with their personal interests, goals and values.
I say that because if you win, a title is for a year and you don't want to end up not enjoying your reign or not representing the system to the best of your abilities. I think there is so much more value in a person raising £50 for a charity and doing it with all their heart as opposed to someone raising £500 just because they feel obligated to do so.
You're also an ambassador for your system when you're out and about doing charity work or community outreach and although you know you've got your title for 365, some people may only meet you that one time. People always remember how you make them feel and if you're not enjoying yourself or if you're uncomfortable, that will rub off on other people and their perception of you and/or the system will live on based on that one encounter you've had with them. So I think it's super important to be present in the moment and fully committed whatever you're doing as part of your title to make sure you give off positive energy!
What qualities do you think a competitor needs to win a crown?
I think a competitor needs to be open minded enough to be able to take onboard other people's opinions as well as be an advocate for their own. Winning a crown means you seek to understand before wanting to be understood because you as a role model and ambassador for the system will have a duty and responsibility to advocate for yourself and others. But, before you can act as a spokesperson or advocate, you need to understand what exactly your message will be to those who need to hear it.
I think it's also very important to be authentic as a competitor because winning a crown is based on what unique qualities or perspectives you can bring to the title. The queen defines the crown and not the other way around, so it's important to know who you are as a person and what you stand for in order to be the best possible queen you can be.
And lastly, I think you need to have belief in yourself which I think is a byproduct of being authentic. When you're at appearances or running your own events, you want to be able to approach people with confidence or deliver a speech without getting overwhelmed so you need to truly believe in yourself and your abilities. Other people will perceive you how you perceive yourself so once you've mastered self belief, you'll almost always make a good impression on others and inspire them. I think it's important to emphasise the point of self belief because not everyone you encounter along your pageant journey will always be cheering for you, and it's up to you to display passion and enthusiasm to a point where people do want to support you and get behind your cause.
Do you think a queen is a role model and has responsibilities connected with that?
I think a Queen is a role model and her responsibilities will differ depending on her system, her personal connection to the system and her platform. As I said earlier about a queen defining her crown and not the other way around - it's a very personal journey you need to be comfortable with going on and sharing with other people as well.
The world of pageants is definitely a fast paced and highly emotionally charged environment. Although there is no one size fits all remit of responsibilities in my opinion, I think the most important message for us to highlight is that becoming a Queen doesn't happen overnight. It takes many losses, a lot of hard work and a high level of dedication for you to get to where you want to be in pageantry.
What that journey looks like for everyone is different, but I think we as queens have a responsibility to reassure everyone within our reach that there's no shame in failing and the real strength in a person's character lies in bouncing back and coming back stronger.
How would you explain Beauty Pageants to someone who has never experienced one?
Pageants are not for the faint hearted! On a high level, it's a very steep learning curve about yourself and at times you will get disheartened or feel broken when you realise you may not be as good as you thought you were at certain things. When you get feedback or constructive criticism, it can sometimes feel like you're being put down, especially if you're already sad about an outcome and you receive it while you're in that headspace. It definitely teaches you to have a high growth mindset where you see things as an opportunity to learn, improve and adapt on a constant basis and the people who master that are the ones who generally tend to succeed. Pageantry itself is a sport, and it's a place where you can feel safe to grow and try new things with the support of the community around you.
On the more practical side of things, pageants are a process in which you live out your values on a daily basis, you become part of a network of like minded people, you get to feel unapologetically good about yourself and you push yourself to the limit both physically and emotionally. Don't underestimate the value in a balanced diet, staying hydrated and practising mindfulness because in order for you to be at your best on pageant final day, you need to have prepared in advance and also be prepared for the outcome whether that's a title or not.
What's been your greatest learning experience from pageantry?
My greatest learning experience from pageantry has been to never compare your day 1 to someone else's day 100. Granted, there will always be that one girl you aspire to be like or the one who intimidates you but everyone's time comes at different stages. Don't put yourself under pressure to be good at everything from the very start because all those girls you admire or even envy also started somewhere. Focussing on my own lane and not letting the noise of my own thoughts or other people's thoughts has empowered me to just think about my own goals and journey and not focus too much on what other people are doing.
What was running through your head when your name was announced as the winner?
I think I was excited that my plan was falling into place and that I could try out all the amazing ideas I had around raising the profile of Miss Diamond in Ireland. I was also happy with myself that I was able to achieve the goal I had set out for myself and I was really proud of myself for pushing through the two days of finals because they were heavy and jam packed. I also felt humbled to have my mum be in the audience watching me being crowned and for everyone back home in Zimbabwe who was going to draw inspiration from that moment. It felt good to be the mentor who practises what they preach and challenges themselves constantly and it's always an honour when someone puts their trust in me for me to mentor them.
Who is your Beauty Pageant inspiration?
Zozibini Tunzi because she carried her title with pride and purpose even before she won Miss Universe. She championed the conversation on how she wanted other little girls who look like her to feel like they can achieve what they put their minds to, which I think helped put pageantry more in the limelight with mainstream media. Even after her reign, she still maintains a presence in the community which I admire - it shows she really wasn't just in it for the glitz and glam.
If you have sister queens, tell us how you are as a team and how you support each other etc.
We've all only just started our journeys but I have no doubt we are all going to grow closer as sister queens and as friends over the coming year. We've already got some great ideas on how we can support each other so I look forward to seeing all of that come to life over the next year.