As a finalist in the Miss Canada 2017 pageant, less than two weeks away, Navneet Nanan is in the height of preparations.

In the midst of reading break, while other students might be lounging with friends or taking some extra time to complete their homework, Nanan was bouncing from meeting to meeting and tracking the gowns being shipped to her address in UniverCity. The Peak got to speak with her about how she entered pageantry, what she’s looking forward to for Miss Canada, and her hopes for the future.

Reflections in the mirror and self-reflection

Nanan had always had an interest in pageants. “I found the women [I saw in pageants] to be super inspirational, confident, and poised.” However, she never saw herself as someone “who could be that, be there, [and] fill those shoes.”

It wasn’t until her senior year of high school that Nanan finally got the courage to participate in the Miss BC pageant. Not only did the pageant give her the confidence to compete in future events, but she found that the connections she made with girls all over BC, as well as the series of workshops offered during the pageant, were “crucial to [her] development in [the] industry.”

Her interactions with the other pageant girls created a natural, comfortable, and organic atmosphere where she felt at ease. “I still keep in contact with the girls I met in that pageant,” Nanan said.

In addition to her involvement in pageantry, Nanan volunteers widely in the community for organizations such as the BC Cancer Society, Terry Fox Foundation, and Heart and Stroke Foundation. Particularly, she has sustained a focus on girls’ and women’s empowerment including returning to her old high school to give talks to the young women about self-esteem, body image, and insecurity. On a more global scale, Nanan represented Canada at the European Youth Parliament forum to speak on the extreme circumstances faced by female Syrian refugees.

Her personal experiences struggling with self-esteem and body image issues, combined with her passion for girls’ empowerment in the community and the open and accepting pageant atmosphere, led Nanan to envision a platform based on women’s empowerment as she moves forward into Miss Canada 2017. “I’m pursuing this platform because growing up, there wasn’t a really good female role model for me,” Nanan said.

She spoke about how pageantry helped her work through her insecurities as a woman, and how she now hopes her time on the stage can also be used to help other girls younger than her deal with similar issues.

The depth under the surface

One thing Nanan was careful to stress during the interview was that, unlike popular media depictions, pageantry for her was more than surface-deep. “[Miss Canada 2017] is not just looking for a pretty girl — they want someone well-spoken, who’s involved in the community, and is a well-rounded person,” she emphasized.

She talked about how pageants are hypersexualised and often onlookers who don’t know much about pageants may not understand the depth of the competition.

As Nanan herself gets ready for the Miss Canada pageant, which will run for a week in early March, she is preparing for an evening gown portion, private interviews with the judges, on-stage questions, and maintaining her overall composure through the week. With her coach, she mainly focuses on sample interview questions and reaching out to local community businesses for sponsorship.

Pageantry has given Nanan more than just the confidence to overcome her adolescent insecurities, it has given her a voice to speak about what she cares about. “There are amazing role models, a lot of amazing women to surround myself with. And I am very self-aware, so much more confident in who I am and my abilities.”

More than anything, she’s looking forward to speaking on the stage about her experiences with women’s empowerment, and making connections with the other ambitious and inspiring contestants she is looking forward to meeting.

The future looks bright

In the midst of her exhilarating and time-consuming pageant passion, Nanan is a full-time student, and is currently completing her second year at Beedie School of Business.

She is keeping her options open for her future path — while she’s undecided as to what her concentration in the program may be, she knows that she doesn’t see herself doing an office job. She describes herself as a people person, and looks forward to working in an environment more dominated by passion than cubicles.

To explore where she might see herself and what she might be doing in the future, Nanan hopes to go on a couple of co-ops and international exchanges. Ultimately, she would love to combine her interest in community involvement and women’s empowerment with her business degree to find “work [she’s] passionate about, that [she won’t] even call work.”