Fashion design student Manar Nadeem Deyani, 25, will make history next week when she becomes the first beauty queen from Bahrain to represent her country at the Miss Universe 2021 pageant.
A Dubai resident, Deyani was named on Monday night as her country's representative at the global pageant, the winner for which will be crowned on December 12 in Eilat, Israel.
"I may be the shortest candidate in the history of Miss Universe, but I stand tall representing a country of love, peace and kindness – your first ever Miss Universe Bahrain," the 155cm tall Deyani posted on Instagram, announcing her participation.
"We are honoured to appoint an empowering woman like Manar 'Jess' Deyani who embodies the grace, passion and inspiration of a modern and respectful queen," a spokesperson for Miss Universe Bahrain told The National.
"Manar, also known as Jess, wants to raise awareness on issues like mental health, equality and inclusivity by using her platform to inspire many people to be more comfortable on their own skin and to show that beauty standards are here to be changed," Deyani's description on the Miss Universe website reads.
"Nowadays people have a concept of what a beauty queen is, but she is here on the international stage as the first Bahraini representative to show the we are a generation that breaks stereotype."
A student at the American University in the Emirates, Deyani tells The National she is "excited for this opportunity".
"I cannot wait to represent Bahraini women in a platform that empowers women and promotes global understanding," she says.
The aspiring fashion designer, who says she suffers from a disorder that causes anxiety and depression, says she will use her title and the global platform to raise awareness about the negative stigmas associated with mental health.
"A lot of people are suffering from it in their daily lives, but are ashamed of asking help just because they do not want to be identified as someone ‘insane’. This has to change, we need to normalise the discussion about mental health. It is a disease that doesn’t show any symptoms," she says.
"I am currently using my social media platform to connect with people who suffer from the same challenges and I hope with my new title as Miss Universe Bahrain, I will be able to expand my reach and impact to create a world that truly understands the mental health issues."
Israeli authorities on Sunday said the Miss Universe pageant would go ahead as scheduled, despite a travel ban on foreigners in an effort to stave off the Omicron coronavirus variant. Participants would be granted waivers while undergoing PCR testing every 48 hours, along with other precautionary measures, the country's tourism minister said.
On Monday, organisers revealed a contestant had tested positive upon arrival and was taken to a government-run isolation hotel. The Miss Universe Organisation did not identify the contestant who tested positive, or her nationality, but said most of the 80 contestants have arrived ahead of the finals next week.
In another first, the UAE is also expected to send a delegate this year.
To those who think beauty pageants are outdated, Deyani says it's all about perspective.
"I am a modern Bahraini woman who has a globalised mindset while celebrating my rich heritage and culture. I think pageants are a great platform to celebrate our differences and unite as a one," she says. "I see pageants as a conference, but done is a very fashionable way where we learn from each other, share knowledge and interact with like-minded people."
Scroll through the gallery below for pictures of reigning Miss Universe Andrea Meza touring Jerusalem's Old City: