When you think “beauty queen” a stereotype springs to mind – its generally of perfectly preened women with no greater goal than seizing a winner’s tiara.
Harleen Sidhu’s resume looks more like that of a woman who will go on to change the world – she holds two degrees, writes poetry in Punjabi and English, teaches English at a secondary school and comes from a background of voluntary work. She is not your all-garden pageant princess. She has fought to overcome anxiety and her mantra “‘get up, dress up, show up and never give up’ has been key to putting herself forward to be crowned Miss Birmingham 2017.
But Harleen’s prize will not be the crown, rather this feminist hopes that she can seize the opportunity the competition represents to help others and to inspire.
“Having led a life where I have witnessed the pressures and turmoil women have to face, particularly within my own South Asian community,” she says. “I feel that I can relate and understand the sheer fear of women unable to pursue their own dreams or express their opinion in society.
“I am hoping that my journey as a Miss Birmingham Finalist and my work for the charity “Beauty with a Purpose” inspires other young girls and women that they should not feel chained or pressured into doing something they don’t wish to do, but in fact doing something they think they couldn’t do by pushing themselves and taking that one step. Women are incredible and history has shown us this time and time again.”
This is something ingrained in Harleen by her own inspiration – her Mum.
She adds: “Seeing her struggles and working with her to move forward in our lives has been the driving force for where I stand today.”
Harleen hopes that the Miss Birmingham competition will mean the beginning of much more, with an eye to the future of bringing together her passions of community service and lifelong learning through plans for her own organisation to support adult learners.
She adds: “I aspire to inspire. Making a difference to someone’s life through gaining a new set of skills or confidence to put their opinion across is not something we can put a price on. These skills that we cannot see seem unrealistic or even impossible to some who have no confidence left, or have been through a negative experience that has taken ‘the right to learn new things’ away from them.”
* The Miss Birmingham 2017 finals take place at the Burlington Hotel in Birmingham on Sunday, May 21 2017. To vote for Harleen text MISSBIRMINGHAM11 to 63333. Texts cost 50p plus the standard network rate and proceeds go tot he charity Beauty With A Purpose.