Minnie Dhillon is beauty with brains. A lawyer who works in commercial litigation and commercial law with a keen interest in emerging technology, she won the Ms South Asia Australia 2019 title and is a Ms AustralAsia Globe 2019 hopeful. She also models at charity and cultural events including the Melbourne Fashion Week. Dhillon believes diversity in fashion and media is important and she enjoys representing South Asian women and encouraging others to take part.

As president-elect for Rotary Club of Southbank, she is passionate about service and volunteerism and is proud of the recent Drought Relief Appeal that raised nine million dollars for Australian farmers.

Dhillon will be off to Shenzhen China at the end of November to take part in the prestigious Ms/Mrs Globe Pageant. This pageant raises money for Women in Need by way of the WIN Foundation. Unlike other global pageants such as Miss World and Miss Universe, the Ms/Mrs Globe Pageant is open to women over 28 and also to those who are married, separated or divorced.

Having experienced bullying in school, Dhillon cares about issues affecting the millennial and younger females from South Asian backgrounds and has observed first-hand how gender and cultural stereotypes affect culturally diverse women in their careers and personal lives. In that, there are double or triple barriers faced by this group compared to their Anglo-Saxon counterparts, something she learnt from attending the Culturally Diverse Women’s Leadership Program run by Div Pillay and Michelle Redfern. She is passionate about mental health and recently became a multicultural ambassador for Mental Health Foundation Australia.

Relating to her legal background, Dhillon has experienced first-hand the impact of economic and emotional abuse on women and is an advocate for financial literacy and financial empowerment of women over 50, who are the fastest growing demographic of homeless in Australia.

And thanks to her cultural roots, Dhillon says learning mantra and yoga helped her rise above challenges and gave her the courage to be her best. She has also played badminton since she was a kid and is an amateur golfer. She encourages everyone to have a regular hobby as it keeps you fit, is a good stress outlet and helps create a sense of community and a wider network. In conversation with Minnie Dhillon.

Tell us about your background and your experience growing up in Australia?

I grew up in Australia in a time when there weren’t many migrants from the subcontinent. I was one of the only ‘brown’ kids in school, and did experience a bit of bullying and name calling. It was hard at the time but as I grew up I realised that it helped me become more of an individual instead of being part of a group and adopting ‘group think’. I am absolutely against bullying in any form but having experienced it has made me more empathetic and made me stand up for others.

On the bright side, I found others like me and feel privileged to have grown up in a multicultural society where one can experience many different cultures. Like most multicultural youth growing up in an Anglo-Saxon dominated country, I certainly grappled with identity issues relating to not 100 per cent fitting into the East or West, but over time I have taken on the best of both worlds.

A lawyer by profession, what made you enter the South Asia Australia 2019 and Ms AustralAsia Globe 2019 pageant?

I am always looking for ways to grow and expand both as an individual and as a professional. I’ve always aspired to have an expansive mindset no matter what I did in life; this means being open to possibilities through further study, travel, making new friends, developing new hobbies and interests. I was always worried that being a lawyer would stifle my creativity and individuality, so when I was approached about the pageant opportunity, I thought ‘why not’? I then remembered when I was a very young kid I was so proud of Sushmita Sen winning Miss Universe in the same year Aishwarya Rai won Miss World. Having grown up in a majorly Anglo-Saxon country where beauty is defined as being white-skinned with blue eyes and blonde hair, these two women became role models for me in some ways as they were both not only beautiful but also intelligent. I realise that as part of my role as a delegate I am invited to attend interesting events where important discussions on diversity, multiculturalism and policy take place, so the lawyer in me that enjoys advocacy and problem solving has a role to play too.

Run through the pageant, what happens from the beginning to end?

The pageant process starts with submitting an application and then being interviewed to determine suitability as a candidate/representative of the pageant. After this there is a preliminary round, and then a final round.

During the finals, there is usually a round with gowns, cultural wear, street-wear/casual and a talent round. There is also a question and answer round and a ‘tell me about yourself’ which evaluates the candidates personal speaking ability and her motives for applying for the pageant and what she hopes to achieve during her reign as the winner of the pageant.

What were the most rewarding things about winning these titles?

The rewarding aspects of being an ambassador for the Ms South Asia Australia and Ms/Mrs Globe brands, reaching more women, making new friendships with the other delegates and inspiring others to believe in their dreams and goals. We can’t be what we can’t see, and so being visible as a professional person who has other interests outside the profession and still enjoys fashion and femininity by way of being a pageant winner and freelance model is great. However, the most rewarding thing is contributing to the dialogue as an ambassador for South Asian youth and, in particular, in the diversity, multicultural and female empowerment space. I also feel proud of being able to represent my South Asian heritage in a positive way while being Australian. The experience is a great personal development that gives one an impetus to try to be the best version of oneself by overcoming fears and developing new skills.

How have you prepared for the Ms/Mrs Globe Pageant in China this November end?

There is a lot of preparation that goes on behind the scenes in such global pageants that are on the world stage and broadcasted. Some of the contestants have been preparing for over a year and have professional pageant coaches who help them get pageant ready.

I was a late entrant and have only had seven weeks to prepare. I am fortunate that I have the support of a talented nutritionist, empowerment strategist and health and wellness coach Shanki Jayawickrama who is helping me get ready by way of optimal nutrition and mindset. While I do enjoy conversing being a lawyer, I have also enlisted in weekly speaking training through Rostrum. Regular exercise and yoga is also helping me to stay zen and give my skin the healthiest glow possible before the pageant.

What is the goal you have set for yourself? Is Bollywood on the radar?

I am taking things one day at a time but I am open to opportunities that may present in the future. I know that there are some really educated people like Pallavi Sharda who also have a law degree and have successfully transitioned into Bollywood. Other examples include Sharon Johal (Neighbours) and Rebel Wilson. I find these women inspirational for following their dreams. However, I think law lends itself to other roles where communication is key, however the law and what it can achieve for people is my passion.

What would you like to say to all those who believe that beauty pageants are regressive and focus on the physical beauty of a contestant rather than their intellect?

I believe that if you are a good person and do good things with your life, then that beauty will radiate and you will always look good no matter what shape or form or size or age. To be beautiful, you must be around others who are beautiful on the inside. Being of service to your friends and family and doing the things that you love will never make you lose your beauty.

I believe that pageants are representative of what a society can achieve by empowering women to do bigger and better things as there is always a humanitarian and charitable aspect that women can use to influence or promote a cause. The first pageant was held in 1888 in Belgium and so pageants are an important historical record and, in the past, provided national pride/patriotism. Additionally, winners of beauty pageants also have an important political role in society that is really subtle and that is – to promote feminism/feminist causes.

Several pageants provide scholarships to young women and hence intellect would be vital. Further some of the questions that are asked at pageants are tricky and so to be successful would require a well-developed intellect.

I take particular inspiration from this year’s winner of The Miss Universe Australia competition who studied Law and has Indian heritage. I believe that the face of beauty is slowly changing in mainstream media and advertising in this country to reflect the 25 per cent of Australians who are born overseas.

What message do you want to promote with other women from South Asian backgrounds?

To be true to themselves and listen to their own inner desires and needs. Too often, women from South Asian backgrounds have so much noise around them and expectations placed on them from their parents, partners, in-laws, children, and community. This can result in taking care of and supporting others (which is a beautiful thing) at the expense of fulfilling their own dreams and potential. The key message I would give is that: you and your dreams matter, so realising your potential, having your voice is important. It is possible to balance family commitments and the fulfilment of one’s own desires and goals and it is never too late to start again.

Anything else you would like to add?

I would be delighted if you followed my journey to Shenzhen China by following me on Facebook ‘MsAustralAsiaGlobe2019’ and on Instagram ‘ILLUMINNIEARTI’. Voting for People’s Choice begins shortly with a $10 donation to the Women in Need (WIN) Foundation. I would love your support! Thank you.

(As told to The Indian Weekly)

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