An Ireland based Zimbabwean model, Blessing Mutamba from Mutare, recently won the Miss Ireland International pageant in that country.
Blessing grew up in Ireland and went to Southampton Solent University where I got a first class honours degree in Creative Enterprise and have now just finished my master’s degree in Entrepreneurship at Falmouth University.
Said Mutamba: “It was rewarding to just be given a chance and at the end of the day it’s a competition where people are there to win, so I was really proud of all the hard work I had put into it. I think pageants are evolving now, especially when you compare them to what they used to be.
“They’re now more about empowering women, giving them a voice and a platform, rather than just walking around in a pretty dress. I have learnt a lot of different things about teamwork, humility, staying humble but more importantly feeling comfortable in myself.
“For me, pageants are a celebration of being true to yourself, not being a mould of what [others] want or expect you to be.”
Here is Blessing Mutamba in her own words:
My name is Blessing Mutamba and I’m from Mutare. I grew up in Ireland and went to Southampton Solent University where I got a first class honours degree in Creative Enterprise and have now just finished my master’s degree in Entrepreneurship at Falmouth University.
Just before I was selected to participate in the master’s degree programme which doubled as a business incubation course, I was working on starting my own luxury travel and gifts business called Encapsulate Luxury which I have just re launched. I am also hoping to get accepted onto a PhD course in September so I am waiting to hear back about the university’s decision.
I was featured as the cover model for GBG Magazine in December 2012. I was also a finalist in Face of Models United 2009 and have won awards such as Miss African Spirit Most Photogenic, Miss Collegiate Ireland 1st Runner Up and have was in the top 10 for Miss Zimbabwe UK 2011.
I have other minor achievements such as being the winner of an online photo contest called World Face of the Month and doing some promotional advertising for Sweet Zimbabwe which I believe no longer exists.
I started entering pageants when I was about 15. At the time, I had been doing a lot of fashion modelling in Guernsey, Channel Islands and was thinking about taking my hobby more seriously.
So I thought pageants would be a good way to get some credibility behind the modelling I did and also a way to network with people who could possibly get me connections into modelling agencies.
However, when I started doing pageants, I realised that it was much more than catwalk modelling over one day and that they required the young women who entered to be intelligent, charismatic and proactive in being an ambassador for their cause.
At this point, my motivations changed and I started entering pageants to boost my confidence, improve my public speaking skills and have the chance to be a positive role model for other young women my age on an amplified platform.
Yes, the pageant element of it is a bonus but I like making an emotional connection with what each particular pageant stands for and from the moment I enter the pageant, I’m always thinking about how compatible it is with my aspirations to leave my mark on the world.
The latest pageant I’ve entered is Miss Africa GB. After being successfully chosen by the panelists from the initial interview round, I was selected as a finalist. Each contestant is required to raise £200 in sponsorship fees and I have been so fortunate to have been sponsored by a company called Revive My Device, friends and family so far.
However, I am still £50 away from my final goal of £200 so I would love if people could support me and donate any amount, large or small to my Go Fund Me donation page, that I can secure my place to represent Zimbabwe in the finals.
There are also advertising incentives for companies who would like some extra exposure on an international platform in return for sponsorship, so anyone who wishes to do this can also contact me. I’m especially excited about Miss Africa GB because it is a pageant that values leadership, creativity and character in young women of African descent who live in Great Britain.
I especially love how the winner gets a chance to fly to the country of their choice on a return journey sponsored by Ethiopian Airlines, to carry out a charitable project which in the pageant we call a “legacy project”. That would be my dream come true because I feel like I owe my achievements to Zimbabwe and want to give back. What I mean by that is in the Zimbabwean culture, we push each other to be better, love one another, support each other and we are always grateful for what little we may have.
In the spirit of our culture, my family – especially my mum, taught me to be humble but ambitious and I think it would be ungrateful of me to not share my victories with my home country. So, if I win, I would like to advocate for investment in education for young girls in rural areas both inside the classroom and in life skills. The charity I previously raised money for was doin work with young girls to help them avoid abuse, make sanitary products out of natural materials and provide vital nutrition. If I won Miss Africa GB, these types of projects are the ones I would carry on supporting by creating a network of support from local businesses in Zimbabwe and garner support from my existing contacts here too.
It’s not always only the winners who leave with something. Pageants are what you make of them. In this context, you definitely reap what you sow so I guess there is no set blueprint of what opportunities come with being in a pageant. I think in pageants, your personality is your strongest weapon and if you make the most of the pageant cycle and let your personality shine through, the world will be at your feet.
Many pageants offer prizes for the top three or top 5 contestants which always vary depending on the size of the pageant, but I think you can create opportunities for yourself by just putting yourself out there and talking to everyone you meet with humility.
It might be that you speak to a photographer who knows someone in a modelling agency, or it might be that the catwalk coach likes the way you are eager to learn and has offered you an hour of free tuition, or it might even be that another contestant owns a business which is compatible with what you do and they have offered to provide you with a service you need.
There is often a stigma surrounding the modelling industry in general and I think pageants are a beacon of positivity which shows spectators that just because someone is beautiful, it doesn’t mean they can’t be intelligent.
I think a lot of pageants nowadays are conscious of the experiences that the millennial woman goes through and they create a space that allows women as individuals to feel free and confident in themselves where they are embraced rather than punished for wanting to be different and stand out from the crowd.
Like I said, being in a pageant enables you to create contacts within different industries and get some exposure for your name as a model or however you want to be known.
In addition, every pageant is different which means you start to think in a more resourceful way in situations where you don’t get as much support from one pageant as you would have from another.
For example, Miss Africa GB provides us with catwalk training all through June to September, choreography for the opening dance and we get to be in photoshoots throughout those months. All of this is what the £200 sponsorship fee covers and since I am currently a student, I raised money by approaching local businesses, selling many of my clothes which were still new but I just didn’t wear and getting donations from friends and family.
Ordinarily, I would not have thought about selling my clothes so you become a more innovative thinker for the purposes of contributing to the pageant. I think pageants have also shown me the spirit of friendly competition and how you can extend compassion even to those who you are up against.
I have not always done well in every single pageant and there are times I have been devastated by my failure yet I can’t remember a single time either a judge or a fellow contestant did not offer me advice or consolation after the competition.
After experience, I also started doing the same when for other contestants who I could see were not experienced and may have been shy or nervous and I think it’s a very gratifying feeling.
My confidence has also benefited from my pageantry. In my line of expertise, you sometimes have to make tough decisions or initiate difficult conversations so I often use the mental conditioning exercises I have learnt in pageantry to maintain a brave exterior even if on the inside I am crumbling.
One example is when I am about to go into a meeting where I know I will be the antagonist of the situation, I just think to myself “What would a pageant queen do?” and surprisingly, it helps me keep my composure so well.
I look up to women who are not exclusively models but are confident in themselves to showcase their beauty as one of many aspects of their identities.
For example, Serena Williams is possibly one of the greatest tennis players of our generation and she uses that to shine a positive light on women who embrace their bodies with all its flaws.
She has appeared on the cover of Vogue USA, Elle Magazine and Sports Illustrated all in the capacity of an intelligent, beautiful athlete and I think beauty should not limit a woman to only tick that one box. In this same capacity, there are many people whom I look up to but I think Michelle Obama has to be on the top of my list.
She is a pioneer in not only her profession, but her definition of the role of a First Lady for me really changed the way I see the extents of positive influences on others can have.
I think she is a woman who is not afraid to admit that she is beautiful and showed a lot of people that her intelligence didn’t make her superior to others but in fact was an opportunity for her to teach and be taught today.