'Everything is possible if you are willing to give it your best shot.'
'And while you go about achieving your dreams, don't forget to care for our planet.'
Final year INIFD* student Pragnya Ayyagari has been living her dream from the moment the Miss Diva Supranational 2022 crown was placed on her head.
It's a dream that played out in her mind, over and over again for five years.
"It took two years for me to convince my mother for it, and that night (on the Miss Diva stage), I saw her waving her hands in the audience to grab my attention and cheering for me."
"It was an extraordinary night. I'll never forget the tension backstage... the lights made us shine, the stage, the judges and the warm hugs," she says recalling the day that changed it all for her.
No stranger to beauty pageants, Pragnya represented Telangana at Miss India 2022 and was placed in the Final 5.
An eloquent speaker, which may have very well given her the edge in the competition, she has a "stubborn heart" and an easy charm that people are drawn to.
"One should follow your heart, because life is too short to procrastinate," she tells Anita Aikara/Rediff.com.. "If you can dream it, you can do it."
A resident of Hyderabad, Pragnya will graduate in fashion design next year.
At the same time, she will be also prepare for Miss Supranational 2023 which will be held in Poland.
At 20, she is the youngest contestant among the 11 confirmed beauty queens from across the world, and if Pragnya wins the crown, she will succeed Lalela Mswane, the first Miss Supranational from South Africa.
"I think every woman must have enough courage to take charge of her life. To be ambitious to chase her dreams while being kind and supportive to her fellow women."
You began your modeling career when you were in college. Was it by accident or a conscious decision?
I was 13 when I first dreamt of becoming a model.
I used to watch a lot of Australia's Next Top Model on television after school.
When I was 15, I found out more about pageants and how beauty queens are making our country proud.
That is when I started doing my research and came across YouTube channels of various mentors and coaches.
I tried to absorb as much as I could from their videos, and that started my journey towards modelling.
Luckily, we are blessed with amazing Internet these days, even in remote places in India, where knowledge is available online, just a click away.
I don't have family or friends related to this industry. The Internet really helped me.
Your mom was there to witness your win.
Honestly, more than it being my pageant journey, it has been our pageant journey.
I come from a conservative family. My dad was okay with me modeling, but my mom was against it.
Both my parents are corporate workers and do a 9 to 5 job. They saw a different dream for me, and I joined BSc mathematics and computer science.
But I dropped out of that college and took up fashion design, which I was interested in since class eight.
It took two years for me to convince my mother about modelling.
That night (on the Miss Diva stage), I saw her waving her hands in the audience to grab my attention and cheering for me.
When I saw her rooting for me, it was an awesome feeling.
I remember telling her success stories of all the previous beauty queens.
I had to tell her more about beauty pageants because I thought her resistance was due to lack of knowledge.
What's their reaction now?
Right now, I'm trying to hush their enthusiasm.
My mom has been really rooting for me.
She is my biggest cheerleader and wants me to win the supranational crown next year.
If you weren't a beauty queen, what would you have been?
I don't think there's an alternate career profession for me.
I'd be trying over and over again until I didn't win the crown.
In fact, there was a question in the pageant itself. 'If you don't win the crown, what is your plan B,' they asked.
I remember telling them, "There is no plan B.'
How has the pageant transformed you?
I find a huge difference in how I carry myself.
Before the pageant I was just dreaming big and didn't know much about the world.
In the pageant, I met people from across the country and learned from their experiences. Those are truly memorable memories.
I was never put into a situation like this before. So, when the situation came into my life, and the way I reacted to it, taught me a lot more about myself.
How do you plan on managing your preps for the beauty pageant and your studies?
It will be difficult juggling the two, but luckily for me, my college is very supportive.
I need the fashion designing degree, because this is what I dreamt of too.
I don't want to give up on one dream to achieve another one.
In the future, I see myself starting up a sustainable fashion brand.
What are your thoughts on environmental preservation?
It's so sad to see the environment degenerating. I feel very helpless.
Overconsumption is a big problem nowadays.
Very often we go out and shop for unnecessary things.
The solution is to stick to what we need. Companies keep producing when there are consumers and when we reduce our consumption, everything will automatically fall into place.
I truly believe that we should give Earth some time to heal post Covid.
Simple things like caring for our garments carefully goes a long way in protecting the environment. If not us, then somebody else can use our clothes.
I really want to inspire people to start a sustainable way of living.
I have adopted eco-friendly habits for a-year-and-a-half now.
Sustainability goes beyond just using resources wisely.
For example, instead of using plastic bags, my family and I just use cloth bags.
We have totally eradicated the concept of polythene bags in our house.
We do not use plastic bottles and carry our own water bottle and straws whenever we step out.
I feel tiny steps like these can make a big difference.
What is your most beautiful asset?
If you were to meet me in person, you'd see it shinning on my head.
My crown is the most prized possession right now. I'm literally living my dream.
Can one make friends at a beauty pageant given the competition out there?
It is very human to feel insecure and jealous.
If you don't feel that, then you're God.
Initially, all the contestants were all very friendly, and only towards the end of the competition did we sense some tension.
But then, each one started to focus on themselves.
All of us are still connected on an unofficial WhatsApp group and are good friends.
From the outside, it may look like a bunch of girls fighting for the crown.
But it's very different when you experience it in person.
Do you have a role model or maybe a beauty queen you look up to?
I take inspiration from people, places and art.
If it had to be a person, it'll be difficult to choose.
All the previous beauty queens have inspired me a lot.
Their success stories and their legacy inspired me to go further in the pageant.
I see myself leaving behind that legacy and am working towards it.
What advice would you like to give women who are trying to make it big in the beauty world?
Stop procrastinating. No dream is too big.
Everything is possible if you are willing to give it your best shot.
And while you go about achieving your dreams, don't forget to care for our planet.
Simple, easy ways of sustainability can be adopted at your home.
Honestly, when I look back, I feel that I could have started my beauty pageant journey when I was 18. But then things just happened, and that's life.
I believe one cannot control everything. Things will happen when they are meant to happen.
But if you are dreaming and aiming for something big, then just go for it.
*Inter National Institute of Fashion Design