Film fan and third-year college student Hiam Hafizuddin, 20, is diving into a double dose of serious pageantry this summer. She’s not only competing as a finalist in Miss World America which starts on July 4 in D.C., she’s also working to organize the second annual Miss Bangladesh USA on August 6. She founded the latter pageant, currently the only pageant for Bangladeshi women in the world, as a web-based competition in 2015 and for 2016 it has evolved into a live event taking place in Chicago which will be live telecasted on Bangladeshi TV. The Aerogram connected with Hafizuddin over email to find out more about her and what drives her passion for pageants.
You’re a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. What are you studying there and what kind of things are you up to when you’re not focused on the 2016 Miss World America competition?
I am pursuing a dual degree in Finance and Media and Cinema Studies. I am a huge fan of film, and I am actually part of a project called “365 films in 365 days” where every day for a year I watch a different film. In my spare time, aside from watching films, I often work on creating my own short films. It is my greatest dream to become a filmmaker to showcase themes of social justice. Besides that I also am involved with dance, singing, and photography and I love to go out and hang out with my friends.
What sparked your interest in pageants in general and in competing in this year’s Miss World America? Can you tell us a little about how Miss World America distinguishes itself from other pageants?
I mainly became interested in pageants because my two favorite Bollywood actresses (Aishwarya Rai and Priyanka Chopra) were both Miss Worlds. And because of that having the ability to compete in Miss World has been a lifelong dream of mine. In the past the delegate from the US was chosen from the modelling community; however, last year they reinstated the Miss World America pageant and I knew right away this was my chance to realize a dream I’ve always had. Luckily, I was selected as national finalist and now can live out my dream.
“I mainly became interested in pageants because my two favorite Bollywood actresses (Aishwarya Rai and Priyanka Chopra) were both Miss Worlds.”
The greatest differences between Miss World America and the other big pageants are that the winner goes on to compete at Miss World (opposed to Miss USA who goes to Miss Universe), the swimsuit competition has been replaced with sports and fitness, and the biggest emphasis on the pageant is Beauty with a Purpose which is the philanthropy project that each girl works on advancing. BWAP is huge for the Miss World Organization and has offered humanitarian relief to troubled people worldwide.
What inspired you to found Miss Bangladesh USA in 2015? Are there other pageants in the United States for people of Bangladeshi background?
Currently, Miss Bangladesh USA is the only pageant of Bangladeshi women in the world and it is this fact that served as the impetus for me to start this pageant. I wanted women of my background to have a platform to inspire social change, promote education, showcase talent, and celebrate our culture. A pageant is a great way to do this all, and I am so proud I could create this for my people.
What kind of reactions have you received from Bangladesh and the community in the United States about participating in Miss World America?
The Bangladeshi community has completely overwhelmed me with their love, good wishes, and support. I was very wary that I would receive a lot of criticism for going into pageantry because for a long time this was very taboo considering that Bangladesh banned all its pageants. However, to my shock, Bangladeshis have erupted in excitement for me and are truly expecting me to bring the crown home. If I win Miss World America, I will be the first Bangladeshi since 1996 to compete at Miss World and this is huge for Bangladesh. The historic possibility of me being the first Bengali Miss World has really gotten Bangladeshis excited.
— Hiam Hafizuddin (@HiamAmani) June 22, 2016
Have you competed in other pageants before becoming a national finalist in this year’s Miss World America? If so, what was that experience like?
I have participated in a few local preliminaries for the Miss America Organization and one County Fair pageant. They were all very great experiences and nothing like what I had thought. Going into pageantry, I based all my assumptions on Miss Congeniality and Toddlers and Tiaras, but I was quickly proven wrong. The stereotypes of pageants being superficial and catty are absolutely wrong.
“Going into pageantry, I based all my assumptions on Miss Congeniality and Toddlers and Tiaras, but I was quickly proven wrong.”
The women I have met at every pageant are absolutely amazing and inspiring as they all are trying to make a positive impact. These women are compassionate and really try to make friends with you. Pageantry is a true sisterhood. A lot goes into preparing for a pageant and it is an emotionally riveting time and only other pageant girls who are going through exactly the same thing understand this. It is amazing that at each pageant all the girls help each other get ready and relax their nerves. I am so fortunate to be a part of something so big and to have actually gotten one of my closest friends, Rachel Janovsky, from competing at my first pageant. Since then she has helped me with preparation for every pageant and it is great to have that support system.
For Miss World America the competition includes interview, sports and fitness, evening gown, runway, public speaking, video introduction, social media, and on-stage question. Which one appeals to you the most and why? Which one presents the biggest challenge to you and why?
I am most drawn to the Beauty with a Purpose Public speech. MWA really places a focus on finding the girl who can serve as a spokeswoman for BWAP and this is something that really drew me to this pageant. I am very passionate about my project — Unity through Diversity: Bridging the gap between differences through cultural competency. I am beyond excited to have this ability to raise awareness and talk about the need for cultural competency in education to address the problems with prejudice plaguing our country.
Sports and Fitness is my greatest challenge because growing up I haven’t been the most athletic; however this portion has really pushed me to work hard on my physical health and the results have been amazing. I would’ve never been able to imagine myself running miles the way I do now.
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