The Miss World slogan is “beauty with a purpose,” and for Rudrakshi Chakrabarti, a third-year UTM student with a double major in biology for health sciences and psychology, pageants offer contestants an opportunity to showcase their outer and inner beauty. This past January, Chakrabarti was crowned Miss Vaughan at the Miss World Ontario pageant. This summer, she will compete in the national contest in hopes of winning the Miss World Canada title and representing the country at the international Miss World pageant.

Chakrabarti explains that the Miss World Ontario pageant was her first experience in the beauty pageant world. When her mother suggested that she take a break from studying and enter the contest, Chakrabarti agreed to sign up.

“In December, during Christmas break, my mom came across an ad where they were searching for girls to compete in the Miss Ontario World, and she said, ‘Hey, you should sign up because there’s no height restriction.’ I’m not the tallest person as you can see,” Chakrabarti laughs.

However, Chakrabarti wasn’t sure about the pageant. She had never participated in anything like a pageant, but her mother advised her to try.

“I think she’s more into that kind of stuff; she never got an opportunity to do it when she was younger.”

After registering, a pageant director did a Skype interview with Chakrabarti to get a sense of who she was and what her platform was going to be. Chakrabarti was then sent a package and began preparing for the pageant.

The Miss World Ontario event was held in Mississauga at the Novotel Hotel on the weekend of January 21, 2017. On the first day of the competition, the contestants met each other for the first time. They then spent the rest of the day choreographing group dance numbers that would not be judged, but would instead be entertainment for the audience. They also learned how to stand when being crowned and how to exit the stage. Chakrabarti explains that this day was dedicated to organizing and planning all the aspects that contestants needed to master before the actual event. Despite the tension of competition, the contestants bonded over the weekend.

“There were a lot of girls. I was so nervous at first, because these were people who have competed in pageants before, and a lot of them were models, or in that stream where they’re acting,” Chakrabarti says. “I was a little bit intimidated, but I realized it got better as I started talking to people. It’s actually really interesting, because now I can say I have a best friend from Windsor —she was Miss Windsor.”

On January 22, the pageant was in motion. By the end of the event, the judges would crown 15 winners from across Ontario to represent their city and move onto the national pageant. The girls competed in swim suit and evening gown portions, and were surprised when their director sprung on them an additional phase to the contest.

“The actual date came and everyone was really nervous and everything was so tight. We practiced the dance number and choreography a bunch of times. Then, our director kind of threw a bomb at us and said you have to go on stage and talk about your purpose in life,” Chakrabarti says. “We were given some time to think about it, which was nice, but we didn’t know it was going to be a thing. The audience needs to see that you can talk and communicate.”

Chakrabarti explains that she was excited to win the crown, but that proceeding to nationals comes with some financial strain. As of present, Chakrabarti isn’t sure about the details of the Miss World Canada pageant.

“My next steps are to find sponsors so I can pay for nationals. Nationals is a lot of money, so our directors suggested for us to get sponsors. I’m just waiting for the delegates’ package that tells us what is going on. I haven’t received that yet, so once I do, I’ll really know the format and what the contest entails,” she says.

But Chakrabarti has her sights set on more than just winning the international crown. Her goal is to attend medical school and to one day become a doctor. Luckily for her, most of the provincial pageant preparation happened during the Christmas break and didn’t affect Chakrabarti’s studies and other commitments.

“I’m doing an ROP with Professor Schimmack, and it is basically about how accurate statistical results in scientific journals are. There are a lot of things that are being published in articles that are not necessarily true, so it’s seeing how accurate they are. It’s a lot of data collection and a lot of analyzation,” she says. “I work at a restaurant in Vaughan only once a week, so that’s not too bad. I also volunteer at Ellengale public school, where I help children from grades 1-3 read, I volunteer at Etobicoke General Hospital in the emergency department, and I also volunteer with the Accessibility Resource Centre at UTM, where I’m a peer mentor.”

To balance all of this, Chakrabarti believes it’s easier to manage multiple commitments.

“Most days, I find that the more you have, the easier it is to kind of go about it. I think the less you have, the more likely you are to slack,” she explains.

In an article in The Guardian from 2015 (“Beauty pageants are embarrassing—even if you name the right winner”), journalist Jessica Valenti writes “The contests are an antiquated reminder of exactly what we don’t want for women, and they should have no place in our future.” Valenti isn’t alone in her opinion. Critics often view beauty pageants as degrading, as they objectify the female body; however, Chakrabarti disagrees with this. She says that pageants help contestants with public speaking, build confidence, and offer women a place to voice their passions.

“Pageants were originally created as a platform where young women could have a voice and speak about matters that are important to them. Even in applying, they ask: what is your platform? What will you do for your community once you win your crown? It’s a stage where you can voice what’s important to you and speak out, reach out to a lot of people, and talk about your platform. Mine was Internet addiction. Some were bullying, health, awareness for Indigenous people. Everyone had their own cause,” Chakrabarti explains.

“I don’t see how it could be negative, and I think people who see it as negative think that it’s just about beauty. But it’s so much more than beauty—it is inner beauty, competition between the best hearts, the best minds, not just the best faces.”

Chakrabarti would be honoured to win Miss World Canada, but her goal in life is to just be a good person all around. She hopes to keep her grades up, continue being a good volunteer, and a good sister.

For her peers struggling to balance their commitments and get involved, she advises them to get out of their comfort zone. “It’ll all sort itself out. Get out of your comfort zone. Don’t say ‘tomorrow’.”