Early in October, Shree Saini, a Punjab-born doctor, made history: she became the first Indian-American to win the Miss World America 2021 title in Los Angeles.
“It's collective win…,” says the 25-year-old Washington D.C. resident, in a typical beauty queen style. She's now busy preparing for the Miss Universe contest—she doesn't reveal much about her outfit for the big day barring that it's in silver and grey.
For Saini, resilience has been “the real driving force”. She moved to the US from Ludhiana at age of 5. Seven years later, she was diagnosed with a low heartbeat and had to get a permanent pacemaker. Later in life, she suffered from serious facial burns in a car accident. “I carried on. You have to pick yourself, no matter what life gives you,” she says.
In an interview with Lounge, she talks about the importance of Indian values, the growing impact of social media on our lives and the world's obsession with beauty of a certain kind. Edited excerpts:
You have often spoken about the way Indian values have shaped your life. What's been your biggest learning?
The significance of family and extended family, how we all care for and support each other. During the darkest times of my life, it was my family who stood beside me.
In one of your interviews, you mentioned about being bullied or trolled on social media. In today's social media age, it's becoming difficult to fight online bullying. How do you protect yourself?
The decision starts with us. If we first decide that we will not give our power away, we will not allow anyone to bully us online, we can block that person or report the person to authorities or have a simple sincere conversation with the person to help him/her rise above gossip, pettiness or jealousy. We always always have the option to inspire others to become better. Let's not forget, the decisions starts with us.
There's so much talk of body positivity and inclusivity, but our fashion shows are still mostly about fair, skinny bodies. Will it will ever change?
I think it's changing. Even in the US, there is not a single shop in the mall that does not feature clothes for regular size bodies, plus bodies and people of colour. With time, it will become more visible. The real change, however, has to start from our own home. We need to treat everyone as equal, whatever their colour or body shape. It's about how people are as people and not what they look like.
In the post-MeToo era world, the conversations around women rights have become stronger. Do you believe the talks have actually translated into actions?
I believe that we need verify claims of both men and women. It is not always a man's fault; sometimes they are accused unfairly. I am not a feminist. Both men and women contribute equally; they should both compliment and support each other. I do not think women are better than men or men are better than women.
Also read: A project to bring feminism to Indian men