Remember back in December 2015 when one of the most epic pageant moments in history happened? On December 20, Steve Harvey wrongfully crowned Miss Colombia as Miss Universe 2015 for a whole 4 minutes before stripping away the crown and handing it over to the true winner, Pia Wurtzbach. A whole lot of hysteria went down and shades were thrown, tears were shed, and eventually apologies made. But away from the spectacle and drama-filled episode, an equally passionate, robust pageant queen is making history much closer to home.
Just one day before this whole fiasco happened, our very own Miss Indonesia 2015, Maria Harfanti, made history at Miss World 2015 as the highest reaching Indonesian ever in the pageant and earned the highest points amongst all the Asian contestants. She went on to beat 111 other pageants to win as 2nd Runner Up, and also won the Beauty With A Purpose Award. In a glance, she may not be your stereotypical pageant face, but every person who believes in her victory will tell you the same thing, “If you listen to her talk, you’ll understand why she won”.
“I always talk through my heart. Everything I do, I do it with my heart. People can always tell how I feel based on what I do.”
When asked on what has changed since she won, she answered “First is about the way I look. I think I am a little fashionable now. I didn’t leave my tomboy side completely, but when I go out in a public, I have to look presentable.” Not only that, Maria also got a taste of power and influence during her reign as Miss Indonesia. She used her title to raise funds for charity projects and highlight important issues through her noticeable social following. “The biggest project was when I helped people in Kamancing Village, who suffered from a water crisis. With the help of local volunteers, I brought clean water closer to the people, built community toilets, and taught them the importance of sanitation”. Her answers always pivot around one thing and one thing only; social issues that need immediate attention and her work to address those issues. Her portfolio is as impressive as you’d expect from a Miss Indonesia contestant and she proves to be a social catalyst in the works of making Indonesia a better, more informed place.
Meeting Maria in real life could be adequately summarised as a breath of fresh air. From the moment she stepped into the studio, there was this air of tranquility around her. No rush, just everything in strides. She is the perfect embodiment of her own philosophy, and she’s the type whose actions abide their words. She has a core set of values, and she lives her life pivoting around those principles.
One of the things we were genuinely curious about was the topic of beauty within the industry. The pageant industry is synonymous with good looks and Maria isn’t textbook pretty; she’s charming and glows from within. In an industry that is so focused on the way your nose is bent or how big your eyes are, Maria loves herself just for the way she is. As she was staring into the mirror and getting her makeup fixed, I popped a question that was all too common within the industry. Has plastic surgery ever crossed your mind?
“No, I love my face. I love my nose and jaws especially because it’s really angular, so when I do photo shoots, it makes my job a lot easier. And I love the dimples on my chin! I think most people call it a butt chin.”
But I love it. I love my face because it makes me, me.
Maria has received plenty of criticisms left and right for the way she looks. Since being crowned Miss Indonesia, people have always had something to say. From the way she walks, to the way she talks; everyone’s got their own opinion of her. Over the years, she’s gotten used to the criticism and takes it all with a grain of salt.
“Sometimes I feel that they hate us because our ambition ticks them off.”
You could say that her journey into the pageant world was destined. From the moment she was born into her looks, her dedication and prestigious academic career, her passion for changing the world, and also her loved one’s advise for joining the pageant world. Her mother, who doubles as her best friend, was the catalyst that made her join the competition. “Everything I do have been prepared by God. My friends and family encouraged me to join a pageant since I was in high school because of my looks and height, but I never wanted to do so because I was a total tomboy. I was also more interested in academics, music, and the social world. But my mom was really adamant that I join the pageant so that was really something. She said, “I know you’re a firm believer in leaving this world a better place. You always want to share what you have with people around you and if you become Miss Indonesia, your impact will be bigger.” Her words have changed my decision forever and I’m glad that I took the right step. So I believe that everything was meant to be and I wouldn’t do it any other way.”
Contrary to what people believe, the pageant world is actually not as competitive as it seems. Listening to Maria’s story, we could almost feel the kinship these girls share during the competition. As these girls are always traveling from one place to another and making rounds as potential winners, there’s hardly any time for animosity between the contestants, especially for Miss Indonesia since the entire contest only lasted for 2 weeks.
“I’m very grateful. It’s a chance that not everybody can get and it’s once in a lifetime. I feel like God has been so kind to me that everything is just falling into place. Even from the beginning with Miss Indonesia, I came without a modelling background. But He sees you and He sees that you have a kind heart and you work hard, so He’ll open doors for you”.
But like the contest period, these pageant queens only have one year to create a legacy. Come the next voting period, nobody really cares about the former Miss Indonesia or Miss World. Everyone’s focus is always on the next big thing. The next Miss Indonesia, the next Miss World, the next girl who wears the crown. So where does that leave all the former beauty queens?
“Right now I’m still hosting a network channel program. I also became brand ambassador for “Minimal”, and featured in collections of Indonesia’s top designers, such as Windy Chandra, Eko Tjandra, and Barli Asmara. I’m being invited as a speaker in many seminars and events to share knowledge and motivate people. As for social work, I have taken part in several foundations, such as Yayasan Sayap Ibu, Relawan Kampung, and Komisi Kepemudaan KAJ. My passion for music has also made me a pianist at a choir.”
Perhaps it’s easier for Maria to move on from the pageant world. She is, after all, the highest ranking Indonesian in Miss World. The pressure is on the next Miss Indonesia to outperform her. “There’s no pressure at all [for me]. I’m sharing my knowledge and experience to my successor so that Indonesia will hopefully get a higher placement in Miss World 2016”. And her main focus on education hasn’t faltered; she stays true to her core and doesn’t let the entertainment world define her.
Over the next few months as her schedule becomes more forgiving, you’ll find the former pageant queen pursuing her Masters Degree at Universitas Indonesia. “I’m doing Masters because I think education is really important. It’s good to deepen my studies for future prospects and also to network more.
In my own opinion, looks fade but your intelligence and character is a legacy.
She’s a firm believer that education is the stepping stone to a better future, and consequently a better nation. “I’m going to say that education in Indonesia still has several problems related to quality and access, as well as the even distribution of well-trained teachers. Limited access to education in rural areas has contributed to increased urbanization as families relocate to cities in order to acquire better education. When the people of a nation are educated, they’d definitely carve ways to be self-sufficient.
To overcome the uneven teacher distribution, the Ministry of Education and Culture should work closely with local governments, both provincial and district, to improve teacher allocation in these areas. If the teacher allocation can be optimally managed, areas that have a surplus of teachers can be transferred to nearby districts.”
As it’s her dream to create a better nation, she encourages everybody to make education a priority if possible. Her advice to young girls with big dreams is to always,
Aim beyond what you are capable of,
and to always works hard with passion, persistence, and sincerity. And if you’re aiming for the pageant world, it would be helpful to take modelling classes first. It’s the rare one thing she regrets not doing in her career. “I had to prepare everything before the competition. I had modelling training, public speaking & character building class, piano & singing practices, I went to the gym often to keep my body strong and healthy, and I had to be active on all of my social medias. The most important thing was to be really hands on with my social project.”
She encourages everyone to develop their skills and potential, not just for themselves, but for the people around them. She has learnt that in this world, a person can’t be apathetic about their passion. They need to be proactive, independent, and above all, network a lot.
Now how do we end a story about a person whose adventure is just beginning? Rather than saying her one year term is the end of her career, we’d like to say that it’s only an introduction as to who she is and what she’s capable of doing. There is a whole lot more attention these days focused on social issues and the younger generation is also more generous in lending a helping hand. With a role model like Maria, we’re relieved to know that the future is in good hands.
So as the author of her own life, we’ll let her wrap up her own story. As she laughs and bids goodbye at the studio, the words that follow her out is,
My life is amazing. Everything just falls right into place.
A very big thank you to the talented Sally and Emily for taking beautiful pictures of Maria! You can reach them here:
All bags in this photo shoot were provided by Second Chance Bags. They have a whole range of stellar pre-loved goods so be sure to pay them a visit!
Or at Instagram: @secondchancebag