Miss Nepal Jane Dipika Garrett is the first plus-sized woman to compete and place at Miss Universe.
Garrett spoke about her mental health struggles and PCOS during the competition.
The pageant queen told BI that she hopes her historic moment will inspire other women.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jane Dipika Garrett, who represented Nepal at Miss Universe in November. She made history as the first plus-sized woman to place in the top 20. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
I've always loved Miss Universe, ever since I was a child. The first Miss Universe I saw was when Olivia Cuplo won in 2012. I was like, "I want to be on that stage, I'd love to do that." That moment really, really inspired me.
But I dealt with a lot of bullying, depression, and anxiety as a child. For a while, that dream just kind of faded into the background.
I was born in the United States — my dad is from Pennsylvania and my mom is Nepali — and grew up there until the age of 10. Then my parents decided to move to Nepal, and I've lived there for the past 13 years. I went to an international school and was very isolated. I didn't have many people skills and struggled with mental health problems. I started self-harming at the age of 16. I starved myself, I had anorexia — it was a really hard time.
I've also had a lot of hormonal problems throughout my life, but I didn't know what was going on for a long time. I always had irregular periods, mood swings, depression, a lot of body hair, and I would gain weight very easily. It made me feel insecure about myself. I would compare myself to other girls and feel like I wasn't skinny enough. But I would go to the doctor and they would say "Oh, that's normal."
During lockdown, I gained 30 pounds and had severe health problems. My partner made me go to the doctor and they found out I had extremely large cysts in my ovaries. I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and borderline personality disorder, which is directly linked to PCOS. It's a hormonal imbalance as well as a mental health issue.
A year ago I attempted to end my own life, but in the hospital, I reached out to a higher power. He told me I have a purpose in life, that there's a reason why I'm alive, and I'm here to inspire millions of people around the world to love themselves. Ever since then, I've transformed my entire life. It was a breaking point for me.
I used to compare myself to others. But now I love my body, I love it so much.
I was in nursing school at the time and, instead of quitting, I graduated. Then I saw the Miss Universe Nepal application was open and I was inspired to try it. I thought it could be a stepping stone for me. I didn't think I would win, I just joined to gain experience and confidence. I embraced myself and I was there for a purpose — to represent real-sized beauty.
And I ended up winning.
Becoming Miss Nepal felt amazing. I didn't go there to become the first plus-sized woman to win Miss Nepal, I went there as myself and as a person. But it also felt really good to be a curvy woman, a plus-sized woman, to win and represent all these women around the world. It was a trailblazing moment for me.
I prepared hard for the Miss Universe competition, and my goal was to win and represent real-sized women everywhere. I was working about 16 hours a day, doing walk training, talk training, and interview training. I was organizing all my outfits on my own, working out, and preparing myself mentally as well.
Miss Universe was wild, it was overwhelming, and I loved it. My favorite part was interacting with all the girls from all the different countries. I got to experience so many different cultures, I got to experience El Salvador and the wonderful people there, and just be in the moment and be present. It wasn't just about the competition, it was about experiencing this whole thing.
When I heard my name called in the top 20, it felt really good. I felt very empowered and like I was changing society's standards. During the swimsuit competition, I got the biggest applause and I felt so supported by the audience.
I wasn't afraid to discuss my mental health and hormonal issues at Miss Universe. I love using my platform to share my truth and views on these topics, and I want to encourage and inspire others. I think it's important that we don't discriminate against people who have mental health problems or hormonal problems.
Miss Universe is not just a beauty pageant anymore — it's an empowering, inspirational, leadership platform. We all have advocacies that we fight for, and I think it's amazing that we're able to talk about these openly on TV and in front of the whole world.
After Miss Universe, I've gotten so many messages from people who said they were inspired by me. They felt like they could love themselves again because I went up on that stage, they felt seen by me, they felt represented, and they felt empowered. They felt like they were on that stage too, they felt like they could do that too. It felt really good.
For 72 years, the Miss Universe pageant was always the same-sized models. I hope that, after this breakthrough moment that I've done, other women are inspired to take that leap of faith, take that risk, and be confident in their skin.
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