Miss Bahrain Evlin Khalifa made a powerful statement about representation during the swimsuit round of Miss Universe on Wednesday night.
Delegates from 86 countries are taking part in the global competition in New Orleans, now in its 71st year, which will crown the 2022 winner on Saturday night. The annual pageant was postponed last year to avoid clashing with the Fifa World Cup.
Khalifa, who was crowned Miss Bahrain 2022 in September, is only the second woman from her country to take part in the pageant.
She made a striking appearance in a pink burkini during the swimsuit round, customising her cape with the message: "Arab Women should be represented. Muslim women can also become Miss Universe".
The cape also featured the word "equality" written in Arabic.
While part of the preliminary competition, contestants are not obligated to wear anything revealing during the swimsuit round if they so choose. The preliminary competition, which also includes an evening gown round, will determine which contestants make it to the semi-finals. The names of the semi-finalists will be announced on coronation night on Saturday.
A separate national costume competition will be held later on Wednesday.
"There are a lot of factors why I decide to compete for the greatest competition of its kind, Miss Universe, but one of the major reasons is to break stereotypes," Khalifa told The National following the preliminary competition. "Arab women are kind, passionate and brave and they are ready to embrace the challenges of life. They can become beauty queens in modesty and can shine in modern pageantry."
For the evening gown competition, Khalifa wore a glittery silver dress, complete with a head covering, by Filipino designer Furne One, whose Amato label is headquartered in Dubai.
Scroll through the gallery below for more pictures from the evening gown competition
Khalifa, 24, was born to a Bahraini father and Russian mother. She is a trained pianist and has taken courses in dancing and taekwondo.
She is passionate about education and believes it is never too late to learn something new in life.
A graduate in finance and banking, she is pursuing online classes to master her Arabic and English skills, as well as psychology. She has also done some professional modelling work, and has appeared in a make-up advertisement for Dior.
She has also spoken out about anorexia, having been diagnosed with it, and is keen to spread awareness and start conversations about the eating disorder, leading a healthy lifestyle and well-being.
At the 2021 Miss Universe pageant, Manar Nadeem Deyani made history by becoming the first woman from Bahrain to compete and walk the swimsuit round in a fully covered flowing activewear outfit.
Ahead of her trip to New Orleans, Deyani's successor Khalifa also said she would be modestly dressed and that crucially, her decision is fully supported by the Miss Universe Organisation.
“Fortunately, the Miss Universe organisation respects our tradition and our culture so, of course, they allow us to be covered or not covered, which is what I really respect about this organisation," she told The National earlier. "So, I will be in a burkini. I respect all the girls who wear the bikini, but I want to show the world that a woman who is covered can also be beautiful.”