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Bibyana Maquez, Miss Teen Universe 2020, during an interview in Dubai. Image Credit: Antonin Kélian Kallouche/Gulf News

She was bullied, shunned by her friends and homeschooled.

Now, Bibyana Marquez is Miss Teen Universe 2020, representing the USA in the global pageant, and jetting to Dubai to speak about bringing the pageant to the city.

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Bibyana Marquez.

“I was born in Texas and raised in Texas. Where I live, pretty much everybody is Mexican. Everybody speaks Spanish. And I live in a border city. So we get both cultures, American culture and the Mexican culture, which is great,” says Marquez. “After this, I’ll be going to Brazil — I’ll be crowning the new Miss Teen Brazil.”

The 17-year-old’s life might be unimaginable to many people her age. But she has first-hand experience with the struggles of an average teen. As she sat with Gulf News on an overcast Thursday afternoon in Dubai, she sported her glittering crown and winner’s sash upon request, and discussed self-esteem, insecurity and seeing her face in Times Square. Plus, whether the pageant is really coming to the UAE next year...

How are you feeling about the big win?

I am honestly so grateful for this huge blessing. It has completely changed my life already in such a short time. There’s already so many things going on, so many projects, and I have to say I am very grateful and excited.

How has your life changed?

Before this, I would just go to school, and after that, go to my dance class and back home. It was a very simple routine in my life. [This] has changed so, so much for me, because a lot of girls at this age, they’re in a regular school, doing what they need to do. And I’m right here in Dubai.

What has been one of your most memorable moments so far?

I was in New York Fashion Week for my very first time in February with a designer that I launched a clothing line with. It was so last minute. He met me on my Instagram and messaged me that he really wanted for me to be his model in NYFW and open the runway for him … We did the whole campaign, we shot [all the] dresses. And then he surprised me with putting my photo in Times Square, on the screen. I couldn’t believe it. In such a short time — I am so grateful.

For people who may only know you as Miss Teen Universe, tell us a little bit about who Bibyana is as a person...

Something not a lot of people know is that I love to design. I love to draw. I am actually self-taught. For every pageant I have done, I design my own evening gowns and then wear them on the final night.

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"When I was in school, I used to be super, super, super quiet. I would never talk, honestly," Marquez told Gulf News.

What was your journey into pageantry?

When I first started, I had no idea about pageants, I had no idea about modelling. I was 16, so it was about a year ago. [The] person who really inspired me is the owner of a dress store in McKellen, where I live, who said, ‘You should join my pageant.’ I thought, ‘I’ve never modelled before, I have no idea what I’m going to do. But I’ll just give it my 100 per cent and see what happens.’

What are some of the issues teens face that are important to you today?

I think what’s really common in teens nowadays is bullying. I see this happening all the time in schools and pretty much everywhere. I went through [it] in school. It was something that really did make me insecure at that time. After that, I started doing homeschool. A while later, I joined my first pageant. Everything happens for a reason. Today, I look back at it and think, ‘No, it’s okay. Because that experience did make me stronger. It made me who I am today.’ And because I started to homeschool, I started pageants.

What are the kind of things that you were targeted for when you were in school?

I had my close group of friends, and all of a sudden, they stopped talking to me. They would be so mean to me all the time. There was a point in school where nobody would talk to me. That was very, very sad for me, because, you know, I was just in school, and so that’s your circle at that time. That’s the only thing you have. At that time, I would think, ‘Why don’t I have friends? I have no one to talk to.’ But everything does happen for a reason.

What were you like growing up? Were you introverted?

When I was in school, I used to be super, super, super quiet. I would never talk, honestly. The bullying makes you a little bit insecure. But when I started homeschool, my self-esteem was way higher. That’s when I started to talk a little bit more and be more confident in myself. Actually, when I first met my make-up artist, I was still very, very quiet — I wouldn’t talk! And today he tells me, ‘Wow, now you’re talking so much!’ [laughs] So yes, it has really changed.

How did your family feel when you were crowned? What was their reaction throughout the whole process?

I think they got just as excited as I did. Because they’ve been with me this whole journey. They know when I started, how I started. I remember when I first started, I never thought I could be Miss Teen Universe in just one year. So, that is a big deal for my family and for my team, my make-up artist, my photographer, they’re all so, so excited.

What do you envision for your future? Can you see yourself pursuing design?

I would love to be a designer. That’s my main target. It’s something I do from the bottom of my heart. I just launched my clothing line [WGBM] with a designer [Willfredo Gerardo]. A lot of those designs are mine; I sketched them and everything. I had so much fun drawing them and putting time into that. I will be posting them soon.

What would your advice be to other kids who are trying to find their voice today?

No matter what, always believe in yourself. Because if you don’t believe in yourself, things get so much harder. Before, when I [didn’t] really believe in myself, I was very insecure. I felt like I couldn’t accomplish anything. But today, after my first pageant is where I proved to myself what I’m capable of doing. So always believe in yourself, no matter what anybody else tells you.

How has it been for you, using your social media as a platform?

My platform is actually Teen Evolution. And it’s about gathering teens who have gone through bullying, who have been there, because I was once there and I know how it feels. So, I made this platform to help them out and to help them with setting goals. And, especially, letting them know that they’re not alone. [It’s not yet launched] because of the virus, but we are working on it. It’s almost there!

We heard that Miss Teen Universe is going to come here to Dubai...

Oh my God, I am so excited about that. It’s going to be held here in Dubai for the very first time and it is going to be organised by Yugen PR, which is great. [Founder Josh M Yugen] is amazing at everything. He’s actually here right now! He’s always here supporting us and, you know, he is the team.

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"Being Miss Teen Universe is a huge blessing, but also a huge responsibility, because you’re an inspiration to many people around the world," she says.

Do you feel there’s an opportunity for Arab girls, as well, to be the next Miss Teen Universe?

Yes, for everybody. Any girl could be the Miss Teen Universes. I would encourage as many people as possible to join.

What would you tell people who have misconceptions about pageants? What’s your perspective, having been through it yourself?

A lot of people think that pageants make girls insecure about themselves because they have to be perfect in some way. But that is completely not true. In my own experience, my first pageant, it really did help me a lot with my self esteem because that’s where I proved to myself what I was capable of. I did so many things I never imagined doing. I would be the first person to encourage girls to begin pageants because they really do help you.

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Were you able to make friends in that environment?

Oh, yes! A lot. In my first pageant, I made a few friends. Till this day, I still talk to them. Last year, in international competition, I made such a great friendship with Miss Mexico. And till this day, we still talk and send each other messages and say hi to each other and comment on each other’s posts. That is so beautiful about pageants because you make friendships that last a lifetime.

What do you view your responsibilities now as Miss Teen Universe?

Being Miss Teen Universe is a huge blessing, but also a huge responsibility, because you’re an inspiration to many people around the world. That is honestly a privilege. I feel blessed. As we are growing up, you always admire somebody, you always look up to someone. It makes me very happy to be that person.