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Date Posted: 18:08:15 09/30/09 Wed
Miss Universe Canada, Mariana Valente, is the second York student in four years to represent Canada at the Miss Universe pageant.
The carpeted room muffled the sound of Mariana Valente's three-inch heels as she rounded the corner and entered the room. In her heels, her five-foot-ten frame was taller than mine.
The statuesque Valente was dressed in fitted black casual pants with a sleeveless ruffled top. Her long, wavy brown hair rested on her shoulders, just past her oversized golden hoop earrings. She sat upright in the seat across from me, seemingly unaware of the lights and cameras clicking away as she spoke.
Casual isn't quite the same when you're Miss Universe Canada. Of course, Valente's life no longer quite resembles what it was a few months ago, before she won the title that made her Canada's newest ambassador.
The 23-year-old York student who lives in Richmond Hill had to put her French studies on hold this year in order to acquire the newest addition to her wardrobe – a diamond studded crown – and fulfill the responsibilities it entails. As she pointed out, competing in the Miss Universe competition is the pinnacle of her pageant career.
"Yes, I'm retired," she conceded with a smile. It's easy to hear a natural, but polite, sort of confidence in her voice. Despite her poise, Valente admitted that the images of the American contestants in both the 2007 and the 2008 Miss Universe pageants falling over onstage did nothing to calm her nerves. "[Onstage] you do block out all of the noises but at the same time, you can still hear your family screaming at the back," she said.
Though Valente failed to crack the top 15 in the Miss Universe competition, held on Aug. 23 in the Bahamas, it doesn't mean she didn't accomplish what she set out to do when she entered the beauty-obsessed world of pageants.
"I always had a purpose," she said, describing the charity she started in 2004 to help underprivileged children in the village of Caxambu, Brazil – the village in which her mother and grandmother grew up and the country in which she was born.
The Brazilian Association for Social and Educational Support (BASE) has been aided tremendously by the publicity that comes with the pageant circuit, and ever since Valente took home the Miss Latina Canada crown in 2007, the charity has continued to grow.
Born in São Paulo, Brazil, the striking Valente has split her time equally between her native country and her adopted country. She has a positive outlook on the Canadian experience and said she was proud to share her hybrid identity with other pageant contestants in the Bahamas.
"To see a Brazilian girl representing –" she paused to correct herself, "a Brazilian and Canadian girl representing Canada, they really got to see that Canada is very multicultural," she said.
Valente spent the three weeks prior to the competition preparing for the pageant, and, although the experience of being surrounded by 84 of the most beautiful women from around the world sounds overwhelming for the average person, Valente said the diversity of the group made her feel strangely comfortable with the other women. It's a reality she's familiar with; in fact, it's one she said she sees every day at York.
"I think that I am most proud of – because I can relate to it – the diversity here [at York] and how everyone is so welcoming," explained Valente.
York is no stranger to pageant winners. In 2006, York's Alice Panikian faced the challenge of competing on the Miss Universe stage fresh after Canadian Natalie Glebova claimed the Miss Universe title the previous year. Panikian didn't win, but she did make the finals.
In the annual Miss Universe pageant, owned in part by famous business tycoon Donald Trump, contestants are judged on three separate categories: bathing suit, evening gown and final interview. Valente said it's often difficult to know exactly what finer details the judges are looking for from pageant to pageant.
The bathing suit category is one Valente counts as one of her strengths, so it's not surprising that her workout regiment leading up to the Miss Universe competition was nothing short of fierce. Preparing for the physical aspect of the Miss Universe competition is a variable she can control. The final interview, though, is something Valente said should come more naturally.
She notes that some girls study and practise answering potential questions and answers, but she takes a different approach.
"I don't think you can prepare for the [final interview]," she said. "I don't like rehearsing. You don't sound natural."
If the challenge and the pressure prior to competition was an uphill climb, Valente faces a mountain of expectations in the coming months. "If we are going to grow [BASE], this is the year to do it," she said, adding that pageants are not treated the same in Canada as they are in other parts of the world, and that they are not as popular. This makes Valente's challenge of bringing publicity, not to mention donations and awareness, to her charity's cause all the more urgent. She wants to get the word out before the shine from her Miss
Universe Canada win begins to fade.
With all of the new commitments that come with her crown – speaking at elementary schools, doing interviews and building her charity – it's difficult for her to see her friends as often as she used to. But, she made it clear that her newly acquired title hasn't changed the relationship she has with her friends.
"I am the same person, I just accomplished something different. I miss being here, I miss being with my friends," she said, peering out of the window into the bustling Harry
W. Arthurs Common.
Valente said the Miss Universe Canada experience has made her rethink her career goals. Though she maintained that her goal of becoming an elementary school teacher may still be in the cards, having the chance to interview Miss Universe 2008, Venezuela's Dayana Mendoza, during a segment for eTalk Daily made her consider other career possibilities,
perhaps one in journalism.
"Maybe next time I can interview you," she joked. Just as she finished her final point, she got distracted by the vibrating cell phone sitting next to her.
She read the text message aloud: "School is not the same without you."
Next September, Valente can continue learning from the teachers she raves about, but, until then, Valente intends on continuing to make Canada proud.
- BASE will be holding a dinner and dance fundraiser on Oct. 23 at the Berkley Church in Toronto.