Crowned in her own skin
By Priyangwada Perera
With the recent disaster at a beauty pageant, the last thing most of us want to hear about might be of another beauty queen. However, Apannaka Kuliyapitiya is worth taking a look at. “You are not going to go anywhere in this arena, unless you get your teeth fixed,” she was told in Sri Lanka. “You are so dark. Do apply some fairness cream at least,” she was repeatedly told at Lankan photo-shoots.
The words used were not so mild. They were rude and they hit her like arrows. Every single day she would break down. She was already working as a model and had trained at a well reputed company but she looked far from conventional.
Dark skinned, with naturally silky straight hair with no treatment or alterations, tall and lean Apannaka was not seen as cut for the Lankan beauty industry. However, her parents were force of support. “My dear, this is how different people see you. Their opinion of you has nothing to do with your reality. You are a natural beauty. We love you as you are,” were the words she continued to hear at home.
Her mother Amitha Dodanwala and Sri Pranada, her famous Irrigation Engineer, writer and lecturer of a father were her strength. She gratefully remembered her school Holy Cross College, Gampaha where she was never made to feel inadequate. It was that initial confidence instilled, now taking her places. Beating all odds and working on her own, she won second place at Miss Sapphire World 2021.
It is a beauty pageant Russia holds annually and this year, it was held on 25 April in Russia. When the pageant first started in Miami, Jennifer Lopez was among the first panel of judges. Miss Sapphire World is a beauty contest where one can be a private applicant and Apannaka, an undergraduate in Russia, sent in hers after a friend asked her to apply. Selection interviews were held in St. Petersburg, Russia and contestants had come from as far as Ukraine and Georgia. Miss Sapphire World is unique because this beauty pageant covers Europe, Asia and America.
Most beautiful women are annually recognized in Paris, London, Miami and Hong Kong, apart from the competition held at the Headquarters in St. Petersburg, Russia. True to their slogan “Beauty and love will save the world,” this beauty pageant is one that is remarkably ‘inclusive’. They have three age categories ranging from 18+, 30+ and 40+ where contestants compete.
“Their slogan is that beauty comes from different shapes, colour and ages. That is why it is open to all and judged in different categories. Even pregnant women were in the pageant,” explained Apannaka. Cosmetic surgeries are a big thing and there she was with all what she was made to feel like ‘flaws’ while in Sri Lanka. “My long black hair is dead straight and natural. Had it not been for my father, I too may have done something to change it when I was younger,” Apannaka laughed as she said that.
“I was the only dark girl there. When you look at the photographs it is obvious. But there I felt no discrimination. In fact, I felt really great because everybody just admired and accepted the differences. Since so much of emphasis was on ‘natural beauty’ that was what mattered. The judges admired the differences and victory or not, this pageant was all about making you really great about yourself. Imagine myself feeling really proud and secure in my own complexion for the first time in many years after coming to the fashion industry?” asked Apannaka out loud. Her confidence was evident. It was a challenging time however as the pageant and its mini rounds were held in -22 degrees Celsius.
The contests were different. They were trained by diverse group of professionals including a famous actor who taught them how to preserve their body temperature and keep themselves warm when giving their speech. They also had a psychologist doing sessions with them. Their fashion rounds and ramp walks were differently organized to suit the weather. Apannaka gratefully remembered the fellow contestants helped her with the Russian language requirements when she fell short.
“They helped me all the time and looked after me as if I was a kid. There was only one contestant, a Russian, who knew English and she was also a teacher of English. She helped me immensely.” Apannaka also recalled the flexibility and assistance of the organizers when it came to understanding her difficulties in coping with the cold. The Director of the pageant Alona Roshal and the organizer Lavda Ksenia were gratefully remembered by Apannaka. She has beaten the stereotypes that threatened to crush her. At 29 years, an undergraduate studying Management in Russia, Apannaka wants to inspire the young generation to rise beyond hollow stereotypes of beauty. We wish her all the very best!