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Miss Universe Bahrain Manar Nadeem Deyani in Dubai on December 20, 2021. Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/Gulf News

Manar Nadeem Deyani has a few firsts to her name. She was the first Bahraini woman to represent her country at the Miss Universe pageant held in Israel on December 13 and she might even be one of the shortest woman to have be picked for the global beauty contest.

Standing at 5’1, the 25-year-old fashion student would have been quite a bit shorter than most of the others at the event, which is known for featuring svelte, tall participants on the catwalk. But during an interview in Dubai on December 20, Deyani radiated confidence when she opened up about being different.

“I’m petite ... I’m the shortest [Miss Universe contestant] in history,” she told Gulf News. “I don’t match the beauty standards but I’m there to embrace it. It’s time to break the stereotypes. It I can do it, you can do it too.”

Manar Nadeem Deyani
Manar Nadeem Deyani during the national costume round at the Miss Universe pageant. Image Credit: Supplied

Deyani, who was born and raised in Riffa, Bahrain and now lives in Dubai, says she grew up watching beauty pageants but never expected to be part of one someday.

“I actually loved watching beauty pageants. However, because of me being petite I always felt like I can’t [compare] to any one of the girls I’ve seen because the beauty standards [were] like... all the women were tall, fair. And I felt like I could never do that. But I’m really happy that we have this opportunity now. And Miss Universe is all about diversity about equality and inclusivity,” she says.

During a busy press day following her return from Israel, the young star and student at the American University in the Emirates opened up about her Miss Universe journey, being pals with pageant winner Harnaaz Sandhu and her top beauty tips.

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Manar Nadeem Deyani. Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/Gulf News

You’re currently studying fashion in Dubai. Is that something you want to pursue in the future?

Yes, I actually love fashion so much. As they say, fashion is my passion. And I’m actually working on my brand. And I wanted to go for sustainable fabrics.... And I wanted to also educate people more [about] that.

Could you tell me about the whole Miss Universe process from when you were chosen to be Miss Universe Bahrain to getting on that stage? What was it like?

My experience was amazing. From the day I got announced, I felt so overwhelmed. I felt excited but then I realised it’s a huge responsibility because I’m not only representing myself, I’m representing my country too. So I wanted to represent it in the best way possible. However, when it comes to preparing, it was pretty hectic because I got appointed last minute. But I want to thank my team Yugen PR and my national director Josh for preparing me ... even if it was last minute everything came together.

I want to thank my fashion designer [Safia Zulfiqar] who designed the dress for me; she did it within three days. And what I loved the most about the designer is that all of her profits actually goes to charity. I also want to thank my beautiful hairdresser Maggie Semaan for giving me the best hair possible ... And also the make-up artist Vimi [Joshi]. She’s amazing. She gave me so many tips.

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Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/Gulf News

Was it nerve-racking? How did you feel on that stage?

When I was thinking about it, I felt like ‘oh my god, I’m gonna be nervous. I’m gonna have an anxiety attack’ ... But I felt completely normal. It was like I was born to walk on the stage. It was amazing.

You’ve talked about sustainability in fashion. What are some of the other causes that are really close to your heart?

One of the causes that’s really close to my heart besides helping the environment is mental health. I think mental health is really important. And [the discussion about it] has to be normalised ... it’s okay if you feel like you’re going through some something and you needed help, there’s no shame in that. I understand that because I’m experiencing that and it’s not easy.

How have you coped with your own mental health struggles?

I’ve been dealing with this ever since I was a teenager, when I was 13. I had to educate myself, I had to do my research [and] read about it at a really young age. And I felt sad because my surrounding wasn’t really educated about that. I don’t want to [see] someone in my shoes. You know, I want people to be seen and heard. It takes a lot of courage for you to come and say ‘I have depression, I need help’.

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Manar Nadeem Deyani during the swimsuit round. Image Credit: Supplied

One of the things that went viral about your Miss Universe appearance was the fact that you didn’t wear a swimsuit. How did you feel about the positive reaction to it?

I feel like it’s surreal. I had no idea it will create this impact in a good way. I actually feel so honoured and happy. However, I want to thank the Miss Universe Organization ... because I thought me going there they will give me options or they will force me to wear something ... But when I was there they actually offered me the burkini without even telling me ‘are you okay with wearing that?’ ... they were already open and they knew about my culture and respected that. So that’s really amazing.

Not only with the burkini, they had two options [for] me to wear, like something like a scarf on top of it or a skirt. So they are really considerate and thoughtful. And I just feel like it’s time to normalise these kinds of things ... even if you’re modest you can walk on an international stage. There is nothing impossible.

So you do feel like pageants have changed over the years?

Yes, so much. I’m really happy that they opened doors for diversity and for people to feel like they could belong, they can walk on stage ... people [don’t] know how huge of an impact that leaves on someone ... walking [on] the stage can give you a lot of confidence for you to love yourself and do better.

Could you tell me about your friendship with Miss Universe India?

Harnaaz is one of the dearest people I met there actually. I was so shy. I was looking forward to meet her. When I got to go there and see her in person, I was so shy to approach her. And then we had this interaction where she was talking to me, welcoming me because I was the last to attend there. And then after that, it just happened ... we just bonded. Most of the times when we are in rehearsals like we sit together and sometimes I just go and accompany her to get her coffee. She’s really a sweetheart and I feel like not only her in general everyone I met in Miss Universe we all created a sisterhood. I got to learn a lot about them, about the country, how many languages they speak, their background, so that was an amazing experience overall.

Miss Universe 2021 Harnaaz Sandhu (Miss India) speaks to reporters after winning the 70th Miss Universe beauty pageant in Israel's southern Red Sea coastal city of Eilat on December 13, 2021.
Miss Universe 2021 Harnaaz Sandhu. Image Credit: AFP

What are some of your favourite make-up tips?

So my favourite make-up tip is always treat your face as a canvas. Take care of your skin. A skincare routine is so much [more] important than we think. We have to have specific steps ... for instance, avoid using make-up wipes because when you wipe off your make-up it is really harsh on your skin.

When you apply your make-up routine, make sure first to use towels or even a T-shirt when you wash your face and cleanse it. And to tap [the face while cleansing] ... and then you can use toner. I always use toner, [a] toner is so important after cleansing. If your skin looks amazing, your make-up will look amazing. So first step is you applying the serum and then you apply the moisturiser and eye cream and all of that. And also when you do that massage it because when you massage your face you just like infuse the collagen in your face.

When it comes to make up, every one of us has different features. You have to know your features first. You have to match your foundation, you have to know what tone are you ... yellow undertone, pink undertone, olive undertone. And for your concealer, don’t go too light or too dark. I feel like the less the better.

What are some items that you always have in your handbag?

I have a lot of items in my handbag. So I have to have my sanitiser ... because COVID, we have to be careful. I have to have a lipstick. I usually don’t go with lipstick as much as lip tint. I have to have my blusher and I have to have my eyebrow products and also my mask and my wallet.

What are your holy grail products?

So my top favourite is Nudestix ... it’s a creamy sun-kissed blusher. I just can’t live without it, I’m wearing it right now. And I love lip liners better than lipstick, so my go-to lip liner’s actually from Make-up Forever ... Now I’m wearing eyelash extensions, but I always go for Marc Jacobs mascara — it’s the best. With foundation I like Fenty Beauty. I love it so much. And I love all Huda Beauty’s products ... I love her eyeshadows and her foundation. And Smashbox highlighter! Whenever I wear it, every time people ask me what highlighter I’m wearing.