INTERVIEW: MIss Universe Singapore 2021 Nandita Banna on the lessons she's learnt

Nandita Banna. (PHOTO: Miss Universe Singapore)
Nandita Banna. (PHOTO: Miss Universe Singapore)

By: Susanah Cheok

Newly crowned Miss Universe Singapore, Nandita Banna faces a bright future in the limelight. The third-year Business studies undergraduate, who is pursuing a double degree, beat seven other finalists at the pageant finals on 17 September 2021. Last December, Nandita represented Singapore and emerged among the top 16 contestants in the 70th Miss Universe International Competition in Eilat, Israel.

Currently in her third year as a double degree student, majoring in Business Management and Information Systems (Business Analytics) at the Singapore Management University, the 1.76-metre tall Nandita is passionate about leveraging technology to create a more sustainable future for Singapore and the world. An avid volunteer with ambitions to help people in real and meaningful ways, the personable beauty also mentors primary school students in interpersonal and life skills.

With her new role as peace and goodwill ambassador, Nandita also hopes to bring fresh awareness to pertinent social issues in Singapore, such as climate change and women empowerment.

Despite a full-on schedule ahead of her to prepare for the international competition, the unexpected pageant queen is already engaged in thinking of platforms and channels to elicit important conversations about how to improve resource management and help marginalised women find their voice during her reign.

The unexpected, at first almost reluctant pageant queen, who impressed the judges with her quiet confidence, natural poise and flawless eloquence, shares earnestly about her initial ambivalence, her struggle to juggle school, work, pageant prep, and how winning the title has changed her life.

I was a very risk-averse person, who shied away from things that I wasn't used to.Nandita Banna

What made you decide to join the Miss Universe Singapore competition?

I was initially a little hesitant to join the competition as I didn't see myself as the typical pageant girl. I decided to join as I thought there would be no harm in trying something new and that it would be an eye-opening and enriching experience for me. I wanted to do something that would challenge me and help me grow as a person.

What have been your most significant learning points so far in the journey?

The biggest lesson I've learnt from this journey so far is that confidence is key. There were instances when I felt like I wasn't going to do well or nervous because I had never done something like this before. You always have to be your biggest supporter and constantly tell yourself that you can do it. You'll only be able to perform well if you make an effort to ignore the mean voices in your head and bring in loads of confidence as well.

How did you prepare yourself for the competition – physically, mentally, emotionally?

I've been doing catwalk training and hitting the gym more often as the competition needs a lot of physical strength. I've also been doing makeup and hairstyling training to understand better how I should present myself. On a more personal level, I'm reflecting and thinking about how to brand myself, the causes I support and what I want to do on the international stage, as I've been given this opportunity. Valerie Lim, the National Director, Daniel Boey, the Creative and Fashion Director, and Tim Tan, my manager from Misc Management, are a few people helping me along this journey.

What sort of struggles and obstacles have you faced in your preparation, and how are you overcoming them?

The biggest struggle would be managing my schoolwork, internship, social life and the Miss Universe preparations. It gets quite hectic when I have back-to-back commitments, and I'm still learning how to do it all. Having to balance all these different aspects and ensuring that I'm up to date on all of them takes quite a bit of planning and discipline. Having a good support network of family, friends, and co-workers helps as well, as they understand my situation.

What's the most challenging part about being a competitor?

The urge to compare me to others, especially in such a high profile competition like Miss Universe. Being a Miss Universe competitor means you're always trying to be better than the next girl, but taking it too far can affect your mental health and perception of yourself. It's really important to remind yourself that you are unique and that you should only be comparing yourself to your past self, to see how far you've come.

Nandita Banna. (PHOTO: Miss Universe Singapore)
Nandita Banna. (PHOTO: Miss Universe Singapore)

After being a part of Miss Universe, what has been forever changed about you?

My approach when faced with challenges and new opportunities. I would say that previously, I was a very risk-averse person who shied away from things that I wasn't used to. However, being a part of Miss Universe has shown me that sometimes diving headfirst into something that I've never done before can have some of the best outcomes, as long as I try my best at every step.

What will you do with this experience?

I hope to continue to use this experience to grow my network, both in the fashion and beauty industries and in the technology and sustainability space. I've gotten the chance to meet so many new people and learn from them, which has expanded my understanding of these industries. I also would like to continue using the platform that I've been given to uplift those in need and raise awareness of issues affecting our Singaporean community.

What sort of advice would you offer to young women who aspire to walk your path?

Take time to reflect and think about who you are and who you want to be. Once you have a good understanding of yourself and what you want to achieve, you'll be able to set your mind to your goals and excel at anything.

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