Miss World America competitor balanced training with a full set of courses at Rutgers
School of Environmental and Biological Sciences senior Saloni Sawant has been competing in beauty pageants for as long as she has been a student at Rutgers, culminating in August, she competed in America's Miss World.
Sawant entered her first pageant at 17 years old when she competed in Miss India New Jersey, where she was the first runner-up. She advanced to Miss India USA and then Miss India International, and placed as a runner-up in both. The next year she won first place in Miss India New Jersey.
Sawant said that as a teenager she was comfortable with her hobby of Tai Kwon Do and was urged to take up pageantry by her mom, who had participated in a few pageants as a young woman in India but had given it up to pursue her education.
“So I was like, 'Why can't I do both?'” she said.
Sawant said that she was initially hesitant, but began to enjoy pageantry when she recognized the competitive nature of it.
A beauty pageant consists of a few differently themed rounds. There is an opening dance number, which all participants appear in but is not judged. Then there is an evening gown wear competition followed by a fitness competition, which replaces what has historically been the swimsuit competition. Many pageants also include a talent round, though America's Miss World did not.
“Usually for the talent round I do martial arts,” Sawant said. “I usually break a couple things. Then I use nunchucks and a bow staff. Then I dance also. It's a fusion of martial arts and dance.”
She said that it takes about a month to prepare herself for a beauty pageant, which involves activities such as going to the gym regularly and eating well.
Qualification for a beauty pageant is comprised of an application and interview process, she said.
“I looked up all the other competitions that have happened in the past, like, hundred years and looked through them and looked at how people answer certain questions,” Sawant said. “There's an onstage question, there's an interview process, there's a lot of things where you are physically interacting with the judges ... and they're not going to be smiling at you when they're asking what you're here for.”
Beauty pageant competitors choose some charitable cause to support, which becomes a critical part of the pageant, she said.
“It's breaking the stereotype that these girls are just here to look pretty,” Sawant said. “They're not just here to compete. They're doing it because they care about something, and they care about it so much that they're willing to put themselves on the stage and compete with all these girls.”
In her competitions, Sawant chose the to support the SKN Foundation, which raises money for various healthcare issues. She said that as a biology major, healthcare dovetails naturally with her own passions.
Most competitors in a beauty pageant are full-time models, and the time commitments of being a college student can make the preparation process difficult, especially when the competition takes place during the school year, she said.
“School comes first, this comes second,” Sawant said. “But I think if I didn't have them together, I wouldn't be as motivated to do both of them ... because if I slacked off in one of them, I wouldn't have achieved what I achieved.”
Competing as a college student has other unexpected benefits, she said.
“You have more support by being a college student,” she said. “You have your friends, you have your family, literally I had professors rooting for me.”
Sawant said that she expects this pageant to be her last.
“Every time I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm done, I'm retired,' and then I do another one,” she said. “Right now I'm saying I'm retired, but we'll see.”