'From a teenager who struggled with low self-esteem to representing India at Miss Teen Universe, I've really worked hard to become someone I'm proud of.'
Wachi Pareek has always secured an A grade through her school and college.
But being academically bright wasn't enough for some of her peers who chose other means to bully her.
"I was skinny shamed, bullied and even called malnutritioned when I was in school," Wachi, who was crowned Miss Teen Universe India in 2021 tells Divya Nair/Rediff.com.
"When I won my first title at the age of 13 at a local beauty contest, it gave me the confidence to dream bigger and help others fight harassment and stand up for who they are," says the 19 year old who is excited to represent India at the Miss Teen Universe pageant in Dubai between February 27 and March 7.
Wachi, an A-levels Cambridge graduate, is currently studying for a bachelor's degree in business administration and management at the Indira College of Commerce and Science in Pune.
The young model who topped in IT at the Cambridge board examination during her junior college reveals how she fought naysayers and groomed herself to be an international beauty.
How did you deal with bullying?
I was always skinny so I used to get a lot of comments about my body... people used to call me malnutritioned.
I was good at studies, but my English communication skills weren't so great so I was bullied for that, all of which affected my self-esteem and confidence.
Fortunately, I enjoy a secure relationship with my parents. I could always talk to my family and have a healthy conversation with my mother and elder sister.
Besides, my family is well aware of my anxiety issues since childhood.
Since my sister lived in a hostel at the time she was also aware of instances of bullying. She explained to me that it (bullying) is a pattern; that those who bully or harass you are people who may be jealous or insecure about something you (Wachi) have that they probably don't.
Gradually, with the help and support of my family, I was able to gain some confidence.
When I got the opportunity, I decided to make it my mission -- to prevent sexual assault and bullying.
For that I trained myself to be confident enough to come out and tell my story to the world.
What inspired you to pursue modelling?
Since childhood, I was always interested in fashion and glamour. In fact I was certain that I wanted to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.
At the same time, I knew that to be successful in the industry I will need to groom myself.
I was 13 when I competed in a local pageant for under 16 aspirants.
I remember being thrilled by the whole experience where I was attended and groomed by so many professionals. I loved the spotlight, the ramp... I felt like a celebrity of sorts.
I didn't win the main title. but I won a few subtitles and that really boosted my confidence.
Maybe if I hadn't won anything, I would have returned home and re-examined my options. But winning the subtitles in the first pageant made me believe in myself, that I am capable of more.
When I participated in Glamanad's teen pageant, Miss Teen India, I did not qualify for the top 15. But I didn't lose hope.
I vowed to groom myself so I trained under Ritika Ramtri at rhe Tiara Academy in Pune and contested for Miss Teen Diva 2020 which I won.
From a teenager who struggled with low self-esteem to representing India at Miss Teen Universe, I've really worked hard to become someone I'm proud of.
And I want to use this opportunity to inspire other girls to believe in their abilities and not give up on themselves too easily.
I want to be there for them, to tell them to follow their dreams, no matter what.
How are you preparing for the pageant?
When I first told my parents I want to participate in the pageant, they were very clear about one thing. That it should not come in the way of my education.
So I really planned my routine for the year. I dedicated the first six months of the academic year to study and prepare for my exam.
A few months ago, I signed up for my dance class which also doubles up as my workout now. I'm hoping to perform a unique dance style for the talent round, details of which I cannot reveal at the moment.
In the evenings I step out in our colony for a walk and meet my friends. It's a huge stressbuster. I occasionally also indulge in some yoga in the mornings.
Time management is very crucial, especially when you are a student and you are also participating in an international contest.
When you step out, people look up to you. So apart from the grooming -- the hair, makeup, rampwalk -- it is equally important to be physically and mentally fit.
You are committed to the cause of 'Prevention of sexual assault and bullying.'
In your opinion, what are the current challenges young people in India are facing?
What suggestions and coping mechanisms would you like to offer?
I strongly believe that most of us, men and women, have faced sexual assault of some form -- minor or major -- at least once in our life.
Abuse, of any form, I believe, happens because of one person's simple inability to accept or see someone else do better than you do.
So how do we fight it? There's a long way to go.
An important drawback here is that our society lacks awareness.
Even after all these years, people (who are abused/bullied) are hesitant to talk about these incidents or share it with their family and friends.
They don't report or talk about it because they fear if the truth is out, they may not be accepted by society.
This attitude of facing/fearing negative repercussions needs to change.
There should be fewer restrictions on women who want to voice their opinion and take a stand against abuse or violence of any form.
This change needs to begin from the school level, where children are encouraged to talk about bullying, come out and share their stories without any negative repercussions.
Similarly, schools must have an active anti-bullying, sexual harassment committee where students can report incidents of bullying and harassment anonymously without any fear.
Who inspires you?
My parents. They are very resilient people and I've rarely ever seen them give up on something.
They've always taught me that you fail only when you really give up on something or if you stop working hard.
Tips you'd like to share with beauty queen aspirants...
You must make your parents a part of your decision-making process. Sit down with them and make them understand why you Are doing this and what it means for you. Having their support really makes a huge difference.
Once you've made the decision, you must sign up for a good grooming programme. Depending on your budget and requirements you can choose a professional who can guide, mentor and groom you.
It will cost you a lot of money. But it really depends on how and where you are spending it. If you see it an investment, the grooming and mentorship will also help you in other aspects of your career.
A lot of money, in terms of grooming, is spent on clothes, hair, makeup and accessories. So if you are smart and talented enough to get funding, sponsorships or collaboration deals, most of your expenses are taken care of.
What are your future career plans?
I have always believed in the value of education so I'd like to complete my graduation. And if everything goes as planned, I aim to pursue a master's degree in HR and economics.