She is only 19-years-old, but Dilani Selvanathan has come a long way, and has now become the first Sri Lankan Tamil to reach the final of Miss England. Ahead of the event on July 31, we caught up with the Software Engineering degree apprentice, who shared her journey, her idols and what winning the beauty pageant means to her.
Can you tell us something about yourself?
I am a really creative and curious person and I regularly try out new things. Whenever I do something I think about making my mother proud and how hard she has worked for me to be where I am now. Everything I do is for her.
I was inspired by Priyanka Chopra and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan – who after winning Miss World, went on to do some amazing things and have had brilliant opportunities. I also wanted to improve my self-esteem and confidence which has been affected by bullying. I wanted to push myself out there and not be afraid of showing who I am and to also share my story so that other people who have been bullied can be inspired by me.
Since my culture does not support beauty pageants and have a negative image in their heads about women wearing short clothes and walking in front of strangers, I wanted to convey that such competitions are not just about looks.
You say that participating in the pageant has been one of the hardest challenges of your life. Why do you say so?
It is because I haven’t ever done anything like this before, and it requires me to come out of my shell and try and be more confident.
You have mentioned about being bullied in the past — was it during your childhood or your growing up years by your peers?
From childhood to a certain age in my secondary school, I have been bullied by my classmates. This was because of multiple things such as the way I looked, my race and my family background.
You say that not many women from your community/culture take part in beauty pageants — did you face any resistance when you did?
My family and relatives were okay with my decision, but other people don’t accept it because it’s not something that is common among the members of our culture. Modelling, fashion and beauty pageants is something we don’t talk about and people think it will bring a bad reputation. Many Sri Lankan people are told from a young age to either be a doctor or an engineer, but not an artist or musician as these are jobs that aren’t respected. I would like to tell parents to let their children do what they want to so that they can be happy.
What are your future plans?
After my apprenticeship, I would like to work for a company in its robotics division. I feel like technology is advancing and there is slowly more use of AI and robots. I feel like robots will change the world, help people and make the world a better place.
Who do you consider as your idol?
My mother. I also consider Priyanka Chopra to be my idol and think she is a very impressive and amazing woman. If I do win the Miss England competition I would like to enter the Miss World competition. I hope to win that and follow in her footsteps.
What would winning the pageant mean for you? What difference will it make for you?
Winning this pageant will allow me to be the first Sri Lankan woman to win Miss England, and I will also be able to inspire more women to follow their dreams and do what makes them happy. I will also be able to share my story and experiences with bullying.