Sophia Bhujel’s win as the titleholder of Miss Universe Nepal 2022 is a story of sheer grit. Pageantry is not new to her having participated in Miss Nepal in 2019 and reaching the top seven and later representing Nepal to win the Miss Eco International title this year. With each competition, Sophia worked to gain a clearer vision, confidence and insight into the issues she wanted to talk about. Today, she is primed to represent Nepal at the Miss Universe stage in New Orleans in January 2023.
Talking to WOW, the newly crowned Miss Universe Nepal, Sophia Bhujel talks about the relevance of beauty pageants, women empowerment, her beauty philosophy and more.
What sparked your interest in pageantry?
Pia Wurtzbach. I still remember when I was watching Miss Universe 2015, I saw Pia Wurtzbach and she actually won the Miss Universe after her third attempt. The day she won, she taught me so many life lessons about grit, dedication, hard work and belief. She taught me that it was okay to fail, but it was more important to rise back stronger, no matter how many times you fail because failure is part of the process to win. Which is why after I was placed top 7 in Miss Nepal 2019, I made it a point to never give up on my dream and that was to win the Miss Universe.
You became Miss Eco International early this year and now Miss Universe Nepal. Was it planned?
2022 was my year from day one. I just had a great feeling about myself. I knew I wanted to participate in Miss Universe Nepal. Coincidentally Miss Eco International also happened in 2022 for me. It was a good experience as it gave me a glimpse of international pageantry, what to expect, how to manage everything, and most importantly, how to create a bond with other contestants that are there for the same purpose.
Has life changed since winning the MUN title?
Life has drastically changed for me. Miss Universe has always been my dream and MUN is a stepping stone. Being MUN in itself is such an honour and these days when I go out, people recognise me. That’s something that I am still getting used to. I get the stares and mumbles, people come and ask for pictures which feels like I am in a dream.
I have ‘pinch me’ moments every other day, especially when I am on social media and people constantly remind me that I am the Miss Universe Nepal 2022. I pinch myself and tell myself “Girl, this is just the start”.
Now that you have a year of advocacy ahead of you, how are you looking to use it for the issues that are close to your heart?
I launched my “Project RED” through Miss Universe Nepal. Project RED is my passion project. It is a project for the women, by the women, to the women to address the very important issue of destigmatising menstrual health and wellbeing. I aim to reduce period inequality by providing sustainable and reusable period panties to those that cannot afford to spend Rs 500- to a thousand on sanitary pads every month, especially students in rural areas, unemployed housewives and people with low income. I strongly believe that basic necessities in life such as period sanitary pads should be affordable if not free. That is why with my project, I aim to tackle this issue by giving one period panty to a person in a rural area for every period panty sold in the metropolitan area.
Over the years, there has been a growing criticism against beauty pageants. What space do you think pageants have in the 21st century where body positivity and ideas of beauty are constantly evolving?
Pageantry has been evolving every year from the time pageantry began. I still remember the time when pageantry was banned in Nepal during the Maoist insurgency. I felt like I was thrown back into time but I am so glad that the mindset of the general public has evolved and now more than ever, people love pageantry and want more of it. I get messages of gratitude and positivity and encouragement on a daily basis because of my involvement in pageantry. Pageants today in the 21st century has changed quite a bit. Take for example Miss Universe; today even married women, transgender, pregnant women, no height or weight criteria are included and everyone can participate. This is a big win not only for me, but for the pageantry industry, and all of us.
The tagline of Miss Universe is “beautifully confident.” What’s your secret to building confidence?
To be honest, I am constantly working on building my confidence every day. Confidence is not built over night; one has to be an aggressive learner. From my time in Miss Nepal 2019 when I used to get nervous around judges and when I could not be myself to my time in Miss Universe Nepal 2022 where I was so confident in front of the judges that for a second, I thought I was talking to a friend. Confidence cannot be built in a day; it is like a muscle; one needs to work on it every day. Reading books, talking to people, listening to opinions and views on different matters, being out and about, exploring and stepping out of your bubble are what I do to build confidence.
How DO YOU envision making the most of your title?
I really want to make a difference. I want my name to stick around for as long as I live, and even after my passing. I want to first work on my advocacy of Project RED and I want to use Miss Universe and my project as a platform to create and work on other projects that I plan to do in the future. I think this is a once in a life time opportunity and when opportunity comes knocking on one’s door, I was taught to not only take it, but to embrace it.
What challenges do most titleholders face?
I think every titleholder faces their own issues. Everyone’s problems are different. In my scenario, the one difficulty I feel is that I am constantly being judged – from the clothes I wear to my statements, my actions, especially online. I am being watched and monitored closely.
What does your day off look like while preparing for Miss Universe?
No days off! This is my motto. I believe that if you are passionate about something, no matter the day, time, hour, festivities, you will automatically be driven and will love to work on your goal. I have a strict routine that I follow very diligently to prepare myself for Miss Universe. It starts at 6am and ends at 10pm and includes following a healthy diet, exercise, writing my daily journal, training with my mentors, reading, meeting family and friends.
Tell us about your childhood.
Growing up in the 90’s, life was simple and laid back and I found happiness in the little things. I grew up with my sister and as the younger sibling, I was naughty and a little pampered. For middle school, I was sent to a boarding school in India which was really fun. It was also the place that made me ready for the real world as it taught me how to survive in an environment without my family, in a foreign speaking land. I had to really look out for myself which in turn helped me grow as a person. I am grateful for all my family, friends and the people who were a part of my childhood.
An early memory…
I was born in a women dominated family as my father is the only male member. However, it was actually my father who ended up giving me a very valuable beauty tip that has stuck to me till date. His tip for me and my sister was to be comfortable in our own skin and he also always asked us to drink a lot of water. My father still tells us every day: hydration is the key to a healthy mind and glowing skin.
How has your beauty philosophy evolved over the years?
I really do believe that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder – as cliché as it may sound – and that beauty comes in every form. One can find beauty everywhere and anywhere if you have the eyes for it. As a little kid, I always thought beauty and being beautiful meant to have a perfect body, flawless skin, but now the definition of beauty has completely changed for me. Beauty is all about self-acceptance and embracing my flaws. It’s also about how one treats another person. I feel the most beautiful when I am my most true authentic self. Beauty is nothing without brain and heart.
What’s one beauty product you always carry with you?
It has to be my lip balm. My 2 in 1 lip balm which can be used on my lips and can also be used as blush.
What keeps you grounded?
It’s very important to have real people in your life and I am truly blessed to have them. They actually keep me grounded. They keep reminding me about the realities of life and always tell me not to get carried away because at the end of the day, people will love you for who you are and not for the title you hold.
How do you unwind after a long day?
I put on some calming music, put on a face mask and read a good book. It always works.
What are some of your other aspirations?
I was raised in a business family, and business runs thick in my blood. So apart from pageantry, I want to continue working in my family business and open my own business as well. I am someone who believes in living in the present and focusing on now rather than dwelling in the past or planning for the future. One day at a time is what I say to myself every day. But one thing I am sure of is that you’ll surely see me running my own business along with working on my advocacies.
Photographer: Suzan Shrestha
Hmua: Nilima Basnet
Stylist: Anush Shrestha