Miss America 2014 Nina Davuluri spoke about her journey to the crown in a lecture entitled, "Celebrating Diversity Through Cultural Competency" on Tuesday. Following the lecture, The Daily Princetonian sat down with Davuluri to discuss gender stereotypes, the ideal lifestyle and her journey so far.
The Daily Princetonian: What would you say sets Nina Davuluri apart from everyone else?
Nina Davuluri: I have to be honest, I haven’t been asked that question. And I can say what I hope sets me apart is that I really think that people really resonate with my story and my message. And that’s why I’m here today ... to share that, because even today, there are so many people who connect and have very similar stories to mine. And to be able to share that and advocate for cultural competency and my stories of assimilation and growing up Asian American and second generation and what all of that means is really something that’s been incredible for me to spread. So I hope that people view me as a symbol and an inspiration to embrace their culture and their heritage and be proud of it.
DP: What according to you is the ideal lifestyle for a woman, especially in terms of eating habits and fitness regime?
ND: There is no ideal lifestyle for anyone in terms of fitness and all of that because what I always told the young girls, especially even on my own journey to health and fitness, is that people really have to learn to be balanced. Not only physically, but I mentioned mentally, emotionally and socially and spiritually. And there are going to be days where you’re going to, you know, where you want to have the cheesecake. And that’s okay ... because you can’t live life depriving yourself. And I think that you just have to maintain a healthy lifestyle overall and make decisions that are personal to you because health and fitness is a very personal aspect of life as well.
DP: What was the most meaningful experience in your journey so far?
ND:One of the things that I was able to experience this year was serving as the National Goodwill Ambassador for Children’s Miracle Network hospitals. And there was actually an event called Celebration and we spent ten days in Disney World and then we do a D.C. tour and end at the White House. And Children’s Miracle Network brings one child from every state and calls them champion children, and their families as well, get to come on this excursion and a trip where they’re able to take their minds off of their treatments that they’re going through. Some of these children are still undergoing treatments and they are cared for on these trips as well. So it’s really incredible to see these children and families interact and feel like kids again, really. And I became very close with one champion child from Texas ... The night before the Miss America pageant I found out that he had passed away. And one of the most touching things that I received afterwards is that we have a tribute as the farewell for the outgoing Miss America. And so my farewell was this year and I had put a picture of him in my farewell of me and him hanging out in Disney World. And his mom called me and said thank you for that tribute … It’s things like that that’s really what this job is about ... It was a life changing experience.
DP: Have you ever felt like the pressure to appear perfect at all times has been overwhelming?
ND: Of course I’ve felt that. When you’re in a role like this where you’re scrutinized, you know, from your hair to your make-up to your shoes to your earrings … I think that at some point, you have to embrace who you are … I have found most power in my voice. And from the second I walk into a room to always present myself from an educational standpoint, from a business standpoint, and be taken seriously is what I really strive for … I think that being smart is cool, and it will take you a lot further than what you’re wearing, or what your hair looks like.
DP: How important have your friends and family been in your journey so far?
ND: Extremely important. I would not be here without them. I think that they are the only ones who single-handedly really know what this entire year and beyond has been like. And so I’m very lucky to have a wonderful group of college friends, and to meet wonderful women in the Miss America organization, and my sister, who is forever my best friend … and my mom definitely.
DP: Given that your job requires you to travel a lot, what are three things you cannot travel without?
ND: Makeup remover, cleanser and moisturizer. I actually never wear makeup unless I’m at an event or an appearance, I suppose … And my neck pillow — can’t live without that.
DP: What advice would you give to other women out there who wish to compete in the Miss America pageant, or are striving for perfection in general?
ND: Don’t strive for perfection because I don’t think that that will ever be achieved and I don’t think that that should be a goal. I think you should try to be the best person that you want to be and you can find that. And in terms of competing for Miss America, you have to be yourself because so many young women come into this organization thinking that they have to look a certain way, act a certain way, do what Nina did, do what so-and-so did, but you have to do what you do … My 10-year involvement has certainly helped mold me into who I am today, but it’s not all that I am today. And you should be able to distinguish that and be proud of who you are and bring something different to the table.
Correction: Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this article misspelled Nina Davuluri's last name. The 'Prince' regrets the error.