GB Singh, a Sikh in 1970’s took an off-beat path to join American Army as a dentist and broke the stereotypical image of Sikh Community in the U.S. Who knew that 30 years later his daughter would follow his footsteps. Meet Serene Singh, the 19-year-old, first ever Sikh woman to win Miss Colorado teen pageant. A political science, journalism and leadership student, Singh decided to enter beauty regime to challenge the stereotypical image people have towards pageantry and its participants.
Singh, a proud Sikh American woman– born and raised in Colorado, feels that her decision to enter pageantry has also taught her to challenge the misconceptions her own Sikh community has towards beauty contests. In an interview with Desi Today she says, “If I could say one thing to the world who believes pageants girls are all “physical” and “against Sikhi”– here is what I would say: What I personally got out of pageantry is not “how to be beautiful”- we are all beautiful. And Sikhism is the very religion to remind us of that. Pageants have taught me to be unapologetically and truly proud and confident of my personal unique beauty. They taught me to inspire all girls to do the same. For some reason, being comfortable in one’s own skin is something that is too often downplayed and glossed over in both our culture and our community. We need our young Kaur’s to be comfortable and confident with who they are-pageant or no pageant-because too often, the world around us will break us down.”
Read on to more about her life and her decision to enter pageants.
1) Tell us about your family, background and education.
Both my parents were born and brought up in India. My father from Punjab and my mother from New Delhi. When my parents came to America, my father, a periodontist, actually became the first turbaned Sikh man to join the US Army. My mother has served in the medical, real estate, and education sectors through various jobs over the years- now she is a full-time pageant mom.
2) Belonging to a Punjabi family, how difficult was it for you to get into an offbeat path like a beauty contest? How did your family react?
We, as a community, see pageant girl scandals on TV and watch pageant fails or mess ups and immediately slap labels onto women who enter in any pageant- dumb, fake, egotistical, etc. But it was only then that it dawned on me…I used to think the exact same way. Perhaps my entire family did too at one point.
When I first joined pageantry, I did so purely independently because I knew I never gave pageantry a fair chance for myself. Sure, I understood that society purported pageant girls to be “dumb” or “fake,” but I knew that my parents have always raised me to be open-minded and equipped to survey new arenas of life for myself, and not to take anyone’s predisposed outlooks or opinions as fact.
Deciding to give pageantry a chance is the best decision I have ever made.
If I could say one thing to those who believe pageants girls are all “physical” and “not Punjabi enough”– I would tell them this: What I personally got out of pageantry is not “how to be beautiful”- we are all beautiful. Pageants have taught me to be unapologetically confident about my own personal and unique beauty. I want people to remember that Sikhs, Punjabis, South Asians — all of us–are Americans. We are as American as any other American of any other background. We can and will continue to do what other Americans do. Pageants have given me this platform from which I can stand on and represent my community in America- this time, in a pretty sick way. Clever, I know.
We need our young girls (wherever and whoever they are) to be comfortable and confident with who they are—pageant or no pageant. And until we are open-minded about exploring the beautiful opportunities that surround us in America, we will continue to miss out on life-changing experiences.
3) How was your experience during the contest?
Having been born and brought up in Colorado, I think I really have grown to embrace my unique South Asian culture and visage. National American Miss has always embraced my differences wholeheartedly. Whenever I have performed Bhangra for the talent competition, I have always felt welcomed and truly treasured- never once out of place.
“Pageantland,” in my experience, is one of camaraderie. Pageants began as a way to build up and empower all women. In pageants, girls really do want to build friendships and they seek to learn from those around them. I am close friends with every single previous Colorado Teen Queen who reigned ever since I began four years ago. That — is such a beautiful aspect of National American Miss and of pageants, in general. This notion of amity is best displayed by the concept of “sisterhood.” When girls compete together in pageants, they call each other “sisters.” In pageants, you join a sisterhood of women who will walk right beside you not just for your year of reign but for the rest of your life.
Currently, I am the only Sikh and/or Indian woman to have ever won this title in Colorado– which is something I am really proud of.
I want people to remember that Sikhs and South Asians are Americans. We are as American as anyone else. We can and will continue to do what other Americans do!
4) When did you discover that you had the qualities to be in a beauty contest?
Well, I think I wanted to join National American Miss because I did not think I had the qualities that the girls who won did. Now obviously, I had spent many years in Speech and Debate and won various championships before I even looked into pageants. However, I do not think I would be able to come onto a stage and capture an entire audience with my elegance, poise, and presence four years ago. Today, I can confidently say that I have never been more confident with the woman I have become. I know I can carry myself anywhere and among anyone with a sense of obvious confidence because of National American Miss.
Pageants have been around for almost two centuries. In times of depression, oppression, and repressions, women commonly lost their say in much of what was going on. As a means to combat the unequal societal standards, pageants showcased the confident and proud women in every community. When women win pageants, they typically serve and assist women-rights activist groups while simultaneously giving back to the coming generation of girls.
Before the competition had commenced, I caught something from the State Director that I have always heard, but for the first time…I really listened. She said, “Our job and our goal is to teach all you young women how to speak, appear, and truly be your best selves. We give the crown and the sash and the trophies because we know you all would not come if we didn’t!” I could not have said it any better.
5) Is beauty and looks only quality that you need to win a contest?
Absolutely not. I can definitely admit that pageants have prompted me to always look presentable and graceful. Having been in D.C. this summer, I have unfailingly seen Congressional members, their staffs, and all those in the D.C. hub look nothing but fresh and professional on all occurrences. It is irrelevant that many of us spend almost the entire day at the computer in a small room– we still are always ready to appear on the camera or give a speech at that request if need be.
National American Miss is largely focussed on speaking and intellect, as well as presentation. Discussing who I am and what I am proud of is not only a large part of my overall score in the competition, but an essential life-skill to have.
We are all beautiful– accepting your own unique beauty is what pageants have taught me to do. We need our young women to be comfortable and confident with who they are– -pageant or no pageant. And until we are open-minded about exploring the beautiful opportunities that surround us in America, we will continue to miss out on life-changing experiences.