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Updated: July 14, 2010 17:22 IST

Playing ambassador

BHUMIKA K.
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Pretty woman: Becoming Miss Universe is as big as making it in Bollywood feels Stefania Fernandez photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy
The Hindu Pretty woman: Becoming Miss Universe is as big as making it in Bollywood feels Stefania Fernandez photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Reigning Miss Universe Stefania Fernandez, a teenager from Venezuela, is excited about learning English before taking on the world.

She's 19 for god's sake!!! But looks way older than most 19 year olds. She rules the universe. She's stunningly tall, sleek and has the smartest bob I've seen on a pretty head in a long time. She has a free apartment in New York city. She travels the world, gets the best of shoes and clothes, and loads of money. And did I mention a glittering tiara?

But then, she isn't the “average” 19 year old either. Stefania Fernandez comes from that part of the world where beauty queens are waiting in the wings every year to dazzle on the world pedestal — Venezuela. The bright-eyed Miss Universe 2009, who got into the pageant circuit when she was 16, soon after school, is in India creating awareness on HIV/AIDS and female foeticide.

In Bangalore in association with the Manjunath Hegde Foundation, Stefania joined many Indian actors in a fashion show to create awareness on these deep-seated issues. Wearing a turquoise blue dress with a silver cummerbund, and silvery heels to match, she easily towered over everyone in the room at a press briefing. Shepherded by Sanjana Jon, the fashion designer, on a Miss Universe AIDS Awareness Tour to Asia, Stefania has taken this campaign to Delhi, Gurgaon (Haryana) and now Bangalore. Sanjana's event management group IG International annually ropes in the reigning Miss Universe for such tours.

How is this awareness essentially spread? Sanjana Jon pointed out that while they would have liked to have a “hands on” experience in the villages of Haryana, there wasn't much time. (So they hit mall-city Gurgaon instead!) “We are creating awareness through the media first. And we're also making a music video on the lines of ‘Miley sur mera tumhara' with Sajid-Wajid, featuring celebrities.” Wouldn't the media and music video-watching population be aware of these issues already? “You're hugely mistaken,” retorts Sanjana. “The maximum number of abortions happen in metros.” Sanjana also stated that while she's been working on social consciousness projects for a while, it was not until 2003 that she came to know that India had a “HIV/AIDS problem”. Oh well.

Beauty queens have weighty responsibilities such as spreading awareness on catastrophic issues, resting on their delicate shoulders. One is also not very new to staid “I want to bring world peace” proclamations from beauty queens past. It's only natural then, to know how the year has fared for Stefania. “It's been great for me. When I started, I didn't speak any English and Donald Trump (owner of the Miss Universe Organisation) said ‘You must learn English' and so I started classes…then I began to travel the world. But there are so many countries that speak Spanish I haven't been able to practice my English, and now I know so many cultures and I'm speaking about HIV/AIDS wherever I go,” she rattles off with a thick accent. Phew! At least that was one genuine answer, I tell myself.

She won her first title of Miss Venezuela at 17. Then one year of “preparation” and she was Miss Universe. Or at least, that's how simple she makes it out to be. What is it about Venezuela that it is able to produce finalists and crown-winners so often? “We don't have a big secret,” she laughs. “It's just that we have a lot of preparation. It's so important, it's so huge…,” and then unable to give me a suitable comparison, she turns to Sanjana for help and the two of them conclude it is as big as making it in Bollywood.

Did Stefania aspire to be Miss Universe all along, right from her school days? “I was tall in school and wanted to contest for Miss Venezuela…but my mum always said ‘Study, study. Finish school'.” Once she finished school, she moved to the big city — the capital Caracas. And from there, the independent lass got on the beauty pageant bandwagon.

Venezuela is also legendary for the large number of plastic surgeries its women undergo, I point out. And many beauty queens have been known to go under the knife. Should beauty be judged despite being tampered with? “To those people who have had surgery, I'd say, ‘Ok good'. But it's not only in Venezuela that it's happening. Miss Universe is not about finding one girl who is beautiful; it's about finding one girl with a personality.” There is a contest-winning answer!

As part of the Miss Universe goodie bag, she gets a two-year scholarship from the New York Film Academy. Is that on the cards next? “First I have to learn English well. Then I will go to University in Venezuela and study communication and then I'll do this course,” she says, her expressive eyes sparkling with excitement.

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