The Jakarta Post
No one would have guessed that the newly crowned Puteri Indonesia used to be a chubby teenager who spent most of her time studying, playing video games and watching TV.
Elvira Devinamira Wirayanti only turned 21 this year.
Born Elvira Devinamira Wirayanti on June 28, 1993, in Surabaya, East Java, to a family of entrepreneurs, the transformation of Elvira Devinamira, or Vira as she is fondly known, is comparable to the tale of an ugly duckling waking up to be a graceful swan.
It took her teenage years to gain her ideal weight and another whole two years to prepare for the country's most prestigious pageant.
'I was a self-conscious kid once. I had to work hard to be as confident as you see me now,' she said.
Her mother, Henida Prabawati, was her main motivator.
'She told me nobody was perfect but it won't do any harm to be next to perfect. Her words changed
me,' Vira said, adding that she was in Puteri Indonesia to prove to her mother that she was her filial daughter.
The hard work included getting straight As in every subject of her international law major during the first four semesters at the Surabaya-based University of Airlangga.
Vira took her first steps in the pageant world by joining the East Java tourism ambassador Cak & Ning contest, finishing in runner-up position.
Her achievements saw her scouted as a model and she worked both in the studio and in the catwalk, but she didn't take any course on her way to becoming a professional model, instead preferring to learn from her own experience than from others.
Reading fashion magazines and watching America's Next Top Model were a lot of help, she said.
'I'm my own hero. Being raised in a dysfunctional family like mine shouldn't make you lose a reason to be better person. I don't smoke, go clubbing or live a glamorous life ' not because others told me not to, but because I made my own choices.
'Now I've succeeded, I don't see my new title as a form of power. I'd rather look at it as a tool to inspire people, especially young girls who are still seeking identities.'
She said many people had forgotten to appreciate local cultures.
'I want to encourage people to love our cultures and local products more and take center stage instead of being followers,' she said, speaking of the wave of foreign cultures that have influenced the country.
All her years of experience were reflected in the final stage of Puteri Indonesia that was held on Jan. 29 at the Jakarta Convention Center, when she gained a high score with her answer to the judges' question on multilateral cooperation.
The annual pageant was the 18th event organized by Yayasan Putri Indonesia, which was cofounded by entrepreneur Mooryati Soedibyo.
The winner will represent the country at the Miss Universe pageant.
Vira honed her English by taking courses until high school. She won an event held by an English course in 2009, in which the prize included a year's free subscription of The Jakarta Post.
Her good grades and English skills also brought her to prestigious educational institutions in the US and South Korea for fellowships, another door she opened in her pursuit of international exposure.
When her stint as Puteri Indonesia and a participant of Miss Universe is over in a couple of years, she says there's one dream left for her to achieve.
'I want to go abroad and work in corporate public relations. I like to communicate with people, not necessarily speak in public. To inspire others, that's what I want to do.'
Until then, she must work long hours to show a positive image for Indonesian women, despite fatigue and a lack of sleep.
'I have to smile although my feet hurt, and they hurt so much right now,' she said in an interview on the sidelines of an event with visiting Miss Universe Gabriela Isler.
'But I'm a determined, hardworking and self-driven kind of person.'
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