'I was treated like a princess'

As far as Miss Universe Singapore national costumes go, it was one of the most criticised in recent memory.

The Merlion-inspired gown, which debuted in 2008 and was embellished with faux leather fish scales and dangling crystals, drew flak from some Singaporeans, who called it tacky, and a joke.

But the woman who had to wear it, Miss Universe Singapore (MUS) 2008 Shenise Wong, feels differently.

To this day, she says she is proud to have worn the costume at the Miss Universe 2008 finals in Nha Trang, Vietnam.

"I felt that the Merlion represented Singapore quite well and being a very positive person, I was very excited to wear the national costume," she told The New Paper.

"Costumes have to be eye-catching and stand out, while not losing the essence of the represented country.

For example, the recent Miss Universe Thailand wore a Tuk Tuk costume to represent her country. It stood out and won the Best National Costume award.

"I believe that everyone has his or her opinion, but from my viewpoint, it was good."

The confidence she exudes as a beauty pageant contestant did not come overnight.

Ms Wong, 34, is a pageant veteran with three other titles under her sash - Miss World Singapore 2005, Miss International Singapore 2002, and Miss Asia Pacific 1999.

Her passion for pageants started as a child, when she used to watch the international Miss World and Miss Universe pageants on TV.

"It became a childhood dream of mine to walk on that stage representing Singapore," said Ms Wong, who took part in her first pageant for a local club when she was just 14.

She attributes her MUS win to her outgoing personality and stage presence, and her experience being in the spotlight.

The contest also remains one of her fondest memories.

"It holds special meaning because it was my last pageant on my pageantry belt," she said.

"Every pageant has its own merits. However, Miss Universe is one of the most publicised beauty pageants in the world and is viewed by billions of people all over the world...

"It was very well organised and planned and it felt more glamorous than the other contests.

"I felt I was treated like a princess in that moment."

Ms Wong has since traded in her tiaras for a family.

She got married six years ago to Mr Kenneth Tan, a private banker.

She is a full-time mother to three children, Ryan, aged five, Chloe, three, and 19-month-old Sonya.

She said: "The transition to motherhood was easy because of the experiences gathered from the competition, like the virtue of patience and the ability to care for others.

"It also taught me tolerance and balance in dealing with life."

This article was first published on August 5, 2016.
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