It is not often I am awoken in the morning by a call from the Italian Embassy to inform me that an Italian of Sri Lankan origin has reached the finals of the Miss Italy 2019 pageant. In a country full of stunning and beautiful women it was indeed a newsworthy story that 20 year old Sevmi Fernando, an Italian born woman of colour AND the daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants had made it to the finals of the prestigious Miss Italy beauty pageant! The Sri Lankan community especially in Italy threw their might behind Sevmi who they considered as one of their own daughters and were elated when she not only became second runner up beating stereotypical Caucasian beauties but also won the award for Miss Smile. A triumphant step for race relations. Despite contention amongst some quarters in Italy who did not see it fit that a woman of Asian ethnicity should compete in the Miss Italy competition, there were vast numbers of people who viewed Sevmi’s participation as a positive breakthrough for women of colour and also helped put Sri Lanka further on the map. With a world of opportunities opening up Sevmi is taking one day at a time and is still in awe of the entire experience which she considers surreal.
I had always wanted to work in the fields of fashion and beauty and art and I thought modelling would be a good entry into the industry.
It was only in 2018 that I decided to would apply for the Miss Italy competition, but I did not get through the selection process. I then decided I would apply to other pageants which are held across Italy. I took part in over 21 competitions in the space of one year and won 11 competitions including the Miss Victoria Secret. In many of the others I was placed as Runner Up. I learnt so much by taking part in these pageants and decided to apply for Miss Italy 2019. It was a tough selection process but I think my experience helped me to get to the finals and I was elated to be announced the 2nd Runner Up.
I knew that by taking part in the Miss Italy competition it would open many doors for me to work in the fashion industry.
The selection process was more tough than I imagined. There were three stages. The provincial, regional and semi finals saw 185 girls compete against each other and from this only 80 girls made it to the finals. We all had to put in a lot of hard work during the entire competition.
I am a firm believer that there is beauty in diversity and beauty is not stereotypical. For me being a woman of colour, I don’t think I should be viewed any differently to the other competitors who participated in Miss Italy, as just like them I too was born and raised in Italy. I felt I had every right to participate in the pageant as I am as Italian as they are.
Yes, without a doubt. There were people in the country who questioned my right to take part in Miss Italy due to my ethnicity.
I really did not give it much thought nor did I worry about it as I knew those were hollow words because those people did not know me personally.
I feel very much an Italian as I was born and raised in Italy. Albeit I am the daughter of immigrants but I consider myself to be a daughter of the world. I believe that each individual may have different origins and to segregate them to one country is very restrictive.
Without a shadow of a doubt it has helped place Sri Lanka in a very positive way. I always referred to Sri Lanka as a country with kind and smiling people and it was rather apt that I won the Miss Smile title during the Miss Italy 2019 competition. Despite being Italian born and a citizen of Italy many people saw me as a participant who conveyed a positive image of my parent’s country, Sri Lanka.
Walking the red carpet in Venice during the competition was indeed a memory I will cherish forever along with the moment I won the title of Miss Sorriso (best smile).
I wouldn’t have had it any other way, because I know I gave it my all!
I have had many offers of modelling for photoshoots with talented photographers, many of whom I had always wanted to work with. As the 2nd Runner Up of Miss Italy 2019 I’m also invited to attend many social events which means I am constantly busy. I have also made so many new friends who have been very supportive towards me.
As clichéd as it sounds, I don’t have a particular routine I occasionally apply a mask for my face and hair.
My parents were with me every step of the way. They supported me in every way they could.
Let’s see how the fashion opportunities work out, if not I would like to open an aesthetic centre.
I was so overwhelmed by the sheer volume of beautiful messages of support they sent me. Many of them had voted for me during the competition and I have been told that they are planning to celebrate the victory with a party. I also received hundreds of messages wishing me well from Sri Lanka, after the Italian Embassy in Sri Lanka posted a picture of me and announced that I was a finalist in the Miss Italy 2019 competition. I was absolutely touched by the Sri Lankan people’s kindness and their belief in me.
I think I just froze in disbelief. There were so many emotions that were swirling in my mind and I don’t think I had any sensible thoughts in my head at that very moment. I am not a person who has a very high self esteem and for me it was quite an unreal situation. When people were looking at me, smiling and clapping I realised that I had to walk to the front to be sashed as 2nd Runner Up.
My smile and straightforward approach towards people were the armour I wore to face my detractors.
There are some people who do not like beauty pageants but I beg to differ. I believe this is a platform that creates opportunities to showcase the power of woman and I believe I am the perfect example of that!